With cuts looming, public says top priority for funds is classroom instruction
The budget deficit clouds were looming Monday night as the Central Valley School District board of directors examined information about coming budget cuts. New estimates put the cut somewhere between $1.2 million and $3.4 million for the 2009-’10 school year.
The district held four community meetings and two staff meetings in March to ask the public to rank what’s most important to them. With input from a total of 369 people, the clear winner was classroom instruction .
The other top categories all had to do with teaching and included support staff to operate schools, classroom instructional support personnel and instructional support materials. “That was the consistent message in both types of forums,” said Jan Hutton, executive director of finance.
The lowest-ranking category was extra- and co-curricular activities such as drama and sports. Even though the category got the least votes, many people said none of the programs should be taken away, said Superintendent Ben Small.
Extra-curricular activities and nutrition services got the highest number of individual comments, each with 92. The largest number of comments in the extra curricular category suggested a “pay to play” model to save the programs. Many people also suggested eliminating activity buses or making students pay to ride them. “I think there’s a consensus,” Small said.
Other cost-saving suggestions heard during the meetings include eliminating collaboration time, reducing staff in the district office and increasing efficiency. People also suggested pulling certified teachers working in other positions such as instructional coach or facilitator back into the classroom.
“We’re going to need a bit of time to absorb it,” said board president Cindy McMullen in response to the large number of comments and information.
District staff will prepare a list of possible spending reductions and their impacts on students for the next board meeting on April 27, said Small.
Small also announced several changes in staffing at the district office. The assistant superintendent position has been vacant since last June, and Small plans to use the $121,000 for that position to make changes. “We’re going to turn it into two assistant superintendents and one executive director, all for less money,” said Small.
Effective July 1, Jay Rowell will be promoted from executive director of human resources and operations to assistant superintendent of human resources and operations. At the same time Terrie VanderWegen, executive director of learning and teaching, will be promoted to assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment. The difference in their combined salaries is only $9,000 per year, and the executive director positions will not be filled, said Small.
Monday night the board approved hiring a new executive director of elementary teaching and learning, Tim Nootenboom, who will be paid $107,000 per year. Nootenboom is currently the principal of Cascade View Elementary in Snoqualmie, Wash., and previously worked in St. John-Endicott, Wash., and Colfax.
At the same time Small announced plans to lay off three district office employees and leave vacant the position of a retiring staffer. Positions being eliminated are the director of learning services, coordinator of staff development and a nutrition services field supervisor. The position of director of education technology will not be filled.
The cuts, which Small called “painful,” are expected to save $435,756. Small said he made the cuts in light of the current budget situation even though he does not believe the district office is overstaffed. “I stand before you not happy about that,” he said. “I know that these positions affect people’s lives.”
McMullen said it is necessary for the district to focus on what it can do without in the short term. “It is the beginning of a very difficult process,” she said.
A public hearing also was held Monday on the planned expenditures for I-728 class size reduction money, even though the district does not know how much money it will receive. The Senate budget, one of three competing state budgets that will have to be reconciled, calls for cutting I-728 money from $458 per student to $31 per student.
Central Valley currently uses its I-728 money to fund 52.9 full time-equivalent positions that include teachers and paraeducators. Such a large cut as proposed in the Senate budget will eliminate all but two or three positions, Small said.
In light of steep budget cuts and a lower than usual number of retirements, the board passed a resolution Monday declaring a budget emergency. The resolution is required if the district has to lay off certificated staff.
Small also proposed one more budget cut, which went before the board as part of the consent agenda and got no discussion. Small asked for a change in his contract to eliminate a planned $4,500 payment into a retirement annuity. “In these tough times people need to see the leader of the district giving back,” Small said before the meeting started. “While the figure isn’t that much, it will help.”
In other business, the board is expected to approve new math curriculum at the April 27 meeting. The district did a large amount of research and ran month-long pilot projects with several different curriculums. Feedback from parents, teachers and students led the curriculum adoption committee to recommend Math Connects for grades K-8. “We were very thorough in our process,” said VanderWegen.
The curriculum includes a large online component. Students and parents will be able to logon to a Web site to see each math lesson, do practice problems and practice tests and also get tutoring help. If the board approves the new curriculum, teachers will attend training days in June, August and September.
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