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As budget cuts loom, teachers are hit hard

Schools continue to buckle down but running out of ways to cut

Staff writer

Last year, Goessel Elementary School eliminated both its remediation and enrichment summer school programs.

The summer school program cost GES approximately $2,000 to $2,500 annually including salaries, air-conditioning, and supplies for teachers. Even at an affordable cost, GES was forced to eliminate summer school because of budget cuts

USD 411 Superintendent and Goessel Elementary School principal John Fast has done everything in his power to reduce the district’s budget without affecting student learning. The district has eliminated a bus route, eliminated a line item budget for school supplies, and decreased several hourly employees from the district staff.

Fast said losing summer school puts at-risk students behind their peers at the beginning of the year. He said it took much of the first two months of school to get students on track for grade-level requirements.

With Gov. Sam Brownback looking to cut $75 of state aid per student, USD 411 will be forced to trim programs and employees that will deter student learning, Fast said.

“The requirements have all remained the same; there’s been no relinquishing of expectations for state standards,” Fast said. “(Brownback) wants, very much, to have everyone above grade level. I don’t know how we should achieve that.”

Hillsboro Elementary School and Centre Elementary School also lack summer school programs.

HES Principal Evan Yoder said the school has not had summer school during his tenure as principal. However, they have cut classroom budgets, a bus route, a custodian, and have reduced staff through retirement and other non-renewed contracts.

CES made a drastic change by combining all of their students in the same building. The high school and elementary school merged in the USD 397 district, saving the district transportation and utility costs.

“The staff worked really hard to make that transition work well,” Superintendent Jerri Kemble said. “We don’t have much space; every inch is pretty much taken. I know next year fifth and sixth grade are talking about swapping classrooms.”

CES also eliminated an administrator. In addition to her Superintendent duties, Kemble is also the principal of all three schools. Also, Centre’s virtual school program has allowed the district to maintain a high standard of education without adding expenses to the budget.

“The teachers are versatile,” Kemble said. “You have to learn to be flexible.”

Marion Elementary School and Peabody-Burns Elementary School offer summer school programs, both for enrichment and remediation. Both schools pay for summer school using grants.

PBES uses a matching grant, Promoting Alternative Thinking Skills, offered by Families and Communities Together. Principal Ken Parry said the district could cover the cost of remediation classes, but the grants cover enrichment programs — a social skills and character education class and a gardening class. The total cost of summer school for PBES is $20,000.

“As far as the remediation piece, research shows if kids attend summer school, they do not regress as much,” Parry said.

MES’ summer school costs about $40,000 — $20,000 matched with a grant. Marion Middle School teacher Missy Stubenhoffer organizes the program, and schedules elementary school students to take summer school classes at the end of the summer.

USD 408 has made cuts similar to those made by USD 411, 410, and 397 — a bus route, line items, hourly staff, and non-renewals. Having already cut costs last year, superintendent Lee Leiker is concerned about the effects of $250,000 of proposed cuts will have on student learning.

“Our district doesn’t have any leeway,” Leiker said. “Every decision we make now has an impact.”

USD 398 has been hit the hardest by the budget crunch the past three years.

PBES used to have two teachers for each grade. Each grade has been reduced to one class. Currently, one kindergarten teacher instructs 25 students. First grade is almost as large. Parry said if classes grow any larger that teachers will be overwhelmed.

“We used to have class sizes of 12 to 18 students,” Parry said. “I think we’re reaching that max. I would like to keep that at a 15-to-1 to 18-to-1 ratio.”

Because PBES has already eliminated personnel positions, the impending state funding cuts could force PBES to limit class time for physical education, art, and music.

“I will have to be creative with scheduling,” Parry said. “Right now they have 25 minutes of PE and 25 minutes of music every day and 45 minutes of art each week. Maybe we’ll go to every other day.”

Cuts in arts, music, and physical education have also worried Fast and Kemble.

“I’m very concerned with fine arts. The fact that the governor has proposed eliminating the state fine arts committee shows he feels that fine arts can be eliminated from schools,” Fast said. “We continue to see multitudinous research with fine arts encouraging learning. You can’t have a holistic education without fine arts and athletics.”

While Parry is concerned with cuts affecting students, he is more nervous about how cost reduction will continue to affect teachers.

“I’ve never seen the faculty as stressed in 20 years at Peabody,” Parry said. “Every time you let someone go, you affect who’s left. Someone has to pick up the pieces.”

Parry said his teachers have not allowed cost slashing to affect the level of instruction they deliver to students. He said his teachers work an average of 70 to 80 hours a week. Residents driving by the school at night or on a weekend will see at least one teacher’s car in the school parking lot.

“When you’re an educator, you’re going to do whatever is best for students,” Parry said. “Legislators can keep cutting; people are letting other parts of their lives go.”

Parry said teachers are spending less time with their families.

“Spouses are saying, ‘You’re gone too much,’” Parry said.

The stress imposed on teachers has affected the Peabody community through their families and their students, but also in a more direct way. Teachers are often asked to be visible, active members of the community.

“I know it’s frustrating when people don’t volunteer for something they had done in the past — community breakfast or sporting events,” Parry said.

The future budget cuts hanging over the school, have Parry tossing and turning in sleepless nights, he said.

“We are not doing some of our kids justice,” he said. “It’s not the teachers; you can only do so much with the resources. I thought we’d be turning the corner by now. The basic things are starting to hit now.”

Fast took Parry’s concerns a step further.

“Salaries have not gone up. Our classrooms are basically running full,” Fast said. “How much longer can you keep asking staff members to do more with less without losing quality teachers?”

Last modified March 3, 2011

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