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home : news : news Sunday, May 1, 2016

3/2/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Central school board looks deeper at $800,000 in proposed budget cuts

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

A revised list of budget reductions would cut $793,327 in spending in the Central Community School District and would save two kindergarten teaching positions that were listed on the superintendent's original recommendation for reductions.

The prior proposal called for $858,000 in cuts. The Central Community School Board reviewed the revised recommendations for budget reductions at a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27.

The revised cut list removes from consideration a proposal that would have eliminated a regular kindergarten teacher and Jumpstart kindergarten teacher, but it adds the elimination of a second kindergarten associate in addition to one associate included in the original reduction proposal.

Superintendent Dan Peterson said the cuts were removed after kindergarten registration was held Feb. 19.

An enrollment of 89 students in kindergarten will allow for a five-section grade level with a 22-student cap in each classroom, he said. Nineteen students are registered for Jumpstart kindergarten, which will allow for a single co-taught classroom or two sections with individual teachers and a 15 student cap per class, Peterson said.

At the request of the school board, the revised list includes more in-depth explanation of how the district will handle the cuts and how they will impact the amount of time students spend in art and music courses.

The school board already has approved several of the changes included in the proposal, such as eliminating the director of transportation position by consolidating the transportation and maintenance departments and eliminating a mechanic and two bus driver positions through attrition.

Still on the table in the current proposal are the elimination of five teaching positions, two Jumpstart kindergarten associates and the family resource center (FRC) director, as well as reductions for art, band, ag and language arts teachers.

In addition to the personnel cuts, Peterson is proposing a 15 percent reduction in building budgets, a reduction in a contract for technical support services, cuts in office supply budgets and transferring some software costs to the nutrition department.

To open discussion on the proposed cuts, Peterson reiterated the reductions are needed because of a continued decline in Central's enrollment, which costs the district approximately $6,000 per student in state aid.

"The solution to the budget reduction problem is in our enrollment," Peterson said.

Board president Christy Kunz said she has received several questions about why enrollment is declining. Statewide school enrolment in Iowa has decreased 14 years in a row, and the overall student population has fallen 36 percent in that time, she said.

Sixty-two percent of Iowa schools saw an enrollment drop last year, she added.

"It's not just the Central school district in this situation," Kunz said.

Board member Jim Irwin said it's eye-opening to compare Central's current K-6 enrollment of 700 students to the projected enrollment of 586 students for 2013/14, and he said the problem goes to a lack of affordable housing in the community.

Board member Kurt Rickard noted Central's decline in enrollment has been about double the county's average of 7 percent per year and pointed to an aging population with fewer children in the district than years past.

Superintendent explains impact of teaching reductions

Digging into the reduction proposal, Peterson said the duties of the FRC director will be reassigned to principals, counselors, the director of student services, juvenile court liaison, school resource officer and secretaries.

Those staff already are involved in FRC duties, he said, but he acknowledged the FRC director is a "valued position" and said the transition will not be seamless.

"Straight up - it would not be the same having our guidance counselors, principals and others taking care of those duties," Peterson said.

That said, Peterson stated he is continuing to recommend the position be eliminated.

Peterson said current enrollment means it's possible to eliminate one first-grade teacher and one second-grade teacher and reduce each from five to four sections while maintaining a cap of 24 students per section.

The district has set class size caps of 22 students for kindergarten, 24 students for grades 1-3 and 25 students for grades 4-6.

He noted current enrollment of 93 first graders means there would be just one seat open in the four first-grade sections, meaning it could be affected by students moving into the district.

"You do the math on these, and there's not a lot of wiggle room," he said.

Peterson said the elimination of a middle/high school physical education teacher will be managed with current staff, aided by a switch to block scheduling at the middle school and eliminating some duties to open time that will allow current staff to cover all sections.

Eliminating a middle school special education teacher will be accomplished by increasing caseloads and due to a decrease in the number of special education students being served, Peterson said.

A reduction in intermediate school art will mean a decrease of 5 minutes for each of two blocks held in a six-day cycle.

Director of innovation and instruction Amy Wichman said decreasing time spent in art, music and physical education will translate to more time for students to work on Iowa Core subjects such as reading and math, and the board reviewed a chart showing other high-performing schools, such as North Scott and Camanche, spend less class time on fine arts.

She said she met earlier in the day with art teachers and had a "good conversation" about the need for the reduction, adding the change doesn't mean the district doesn't value fine arts.

"We clearly want art, music and physical education to remain a viable part of our district," she said.

Peterson said reductions in intermediate/middle school music will be made, but the current recommendation could change as he continues conversations with staff.

Currently, he is recommending eliminating a long-term substitute music teacher and reducing a band teacher, which can be accomplished by reducing class time and sharing the high school band instructor.

Students in grades K-3 would receive 5 fewer minutes of music instruction per class, but students in grades 4-6 would go from three sessions to two sessions per cycle, reducing music instruction by one-third.

"There will be a recommendation for a reduction in the music department. I can't tell you when we come back March 13 this will be it," Peterson said.

Rickard commented there are other areas the district could cut time without affecting music and art, such as cutting recess time or extending the school day, though the latter could have a cost impact.

"It's not just a zero-sum game between art and academics," he said.

Intermediate/middle school principal Jim Wichman discussed changes to make art and music mandatory in grades 7-8 and to add electives such as intro to biology, intro to ag and an expanded creative writing course.

Peterson reviewed reductions in extended contract days for intermediate and high school band that would affect summer lessons and concerts.

A reduction in high school language arts will be achieved by reducing non-instructional duties such as lunch and media center and eliminating the journalistic writing course.

Principal George Pickup said publications lab, which produces the yearbook and paper, will be maintained and other writing opportunities will exist in contemporary literature and philosophy in literature classes.

Something for everyone

"It doesn't matter who you are, when you look at this list there's something you don't like," Peterson said of the proposal.

Irwin said Central is one of only a few school districts that still have a social worker position like the FRC director. While social services are needed, they'll have to come from elsewhere, he said.

"I feel bad it's the direction we're going, but it's survived about a million dollars in cuts we've had (in the past)," Irwin said.

Board member Steve Fuglsang said the question he faces is does saving the FRC position justify cuts elsewhere.

"The position has value. Value to students, to families, to help get them prepared for school. There's absolutely no question in my mind. To what extent? The loss of another teacher? That's the question I face," Fuglsang said.

Rickard said he's pleased with the work that went into developing the recommended budget cuts.

"Of the budget cuts I've been involved with, this one has been thought through very thoroughly to limit the impact on students," he said.

Fuglsang said it's important schools receive allowable growth funding from the state to secure their budgets from these kind of drastic cuts.

"We can talk 'til we're blue in the face. We'll be looking at this every year until we get more support from our state legislature," he said.

During public comment time on the agenda, Central parent Chris Connolly urged the board to avoid cuts in fine arts, calling them "wrong-headed and short-sighted," and presented information on the correlation between music and art education, high test scores and the skills arts develop, such as spatial temporal reasoning and learning to think and read ahead while performing in real time.

"All these skills are essential in a 21st Century workplace, and we want to give our students the skills to succeed," he said.

FRC director Amanda Greubel questioned whether other staff with full workloads can manage the social work duties required to help disadvantage students be prepared for school.

"Essentially this position is about relationships . . . All the iPads and laptops in the world won't make a difference if the kids are tired and hungry," she said.

High school band director Josh Greubel said he's concerned about the cuts to summer band lessons because they're essential for beginning music students, especially since the district cut a band instructor position several years ago and uses the summer days to help students catch up.

"That reduction is going to greatly impact our program," he said.

Parent Ann Green asked the board to consider holding a forum that would allow board members to answer questions directly from community members.

Art teacher Carolyn Butler, whose position would be reduced, said she was encouraged by staff discussions with administration earlier in the day.

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