April 30, 2009 in Washington Voices

CVSD ponders plans for cuts

Administrative positions, bus routes top list
By The Spokesman-Review

Field trips, extracurricular activities, activity buses, all-kindergarten para-educators, 20 teaching positions and some bus routes are on the chopping block in the Central Valley School District because of a $3.4 million cut in money provided by the state.

The amount is still an estimate as the district analyzes the legislative budget passed Friday and anticipates a possible special legislative session, said Superintendent Ben Small.

The number includes administrative layoffs previously announced, but does not include federal stimulus money earmarked for special education because of strict limitations on how the money can be spent. “None of it comes to us flexibly,” Small said.

The district has been holding staff and community meetings since March to decide which programs to cut, and Small presented his recommendations to the school board Monday night.

“Is it perfect? No,” said Small. “Is it painless? No.”

Small said he tried to protect the learning environment in the classroom, which both staff and the community ranked as most important. “This is our best thinking as we move forward.”

Small organized the cuts into three tiers of about $1 million each. The first cuts will be the administrative office cuts, eliminating a collaboration day and eliminating the all-day kindergarten “Plus” program, which served low-income, high-risk students at Opportunity, Broadway and Progress elementaries. The kindergarten program can be reinstated using Title I federal stimulus money. “In order to replace it with Title I funds, we have to cut it,” Small said.

The plan also calls for the elimination of six bus routes serving children living within a mile of McDonald, South Pines and Progress elementary schools. Brad Wayland, director of facilities and operations, said there are no safety issues that would cause the children to be bused and no one is sure why the routes exist. “We don’t know why initially they were formed.”

Small also recommended eliminating small appliances like microwaves and coffee pots from classrooms to save on utilities costs.

The second tier of cuts includes all activity buses that take students home after sports practice or other after-school activities. Small considered charging a fee for students to ride the bus, but said it’s not practical. “If we were to continue that on a fee basis, every student would have to pay $4.72” per ride.

Bowdish Middle School Principal Dave Bouge said it’s a cut he can live with. “In all candor, the bus ridership has been really low,” he said. “This one feels like it’s less of an impact than some of the other cuts.”

The proposed cut likely to get a lot of attention from parents is chopping $100,000 from extracurricular and co-curricular activities. What exactly will be cut will be determined by a study to be completed some time in June. “They could come back with an awful lot of options,” Small said. “We have to give it some time.”

“I just can’t support this,” said board member Debbie Long, who noted that some kids go to school only for sports or other activities. “This is where I draw the line. We’ve got to find another way to save some money.”

Board president Cindy McMullen cautioned that any cuts must affect sports and non-sports activities equally so that no one thing is singled out.

School building and department budgets will all be reduced by 5 percent. Small said the recommendation is to look at travel costs and field trips. The district plans to cut all kindergarten para-educators but reinstate as many as possible using Learning Assistance Program funds. The district doesn’t yet know how much it will be receiving from the state, said Mary Jo Buckingham, director of special services. “Are we going to be able to replace it all? No,” she said. “We’re going to do the very best we can.”

The second tier also includes delaying purchase of new science and social studies curriculum. The district’s current curriculum is outdated and doesn’t meet the new state standards.

“This is the one what sends me over the edge,” said McMullen. “This affects every child in our district. If we don’t adopt current curriculum, then we keep getting further behind. On my little form, it’s crossed out.”

“Mine too,” said board member Debbie Long.

The final tier of cuts is a reduction of 20 full-time equivalent teaching positions for a savings of $1.38 million. Small said this can be accomplished by reducing instructional coaches and academic support positions by half. He’s hopeful that the positions can be cut through attrition, but so far the number of retirements is down drastically. “I believe if we limit it to one-half, we can avoid a RIF (reduction in force) situation,” he said.

School board members suggested several other budget options, including increasing class sizes fractionally, adjusting the high-school schedules, cutting custodian hours and eliminating the district’s two school resource officers.

“It’s already funded by somebody else,” said board member Tom Dingus on the proposal to cut the resource officers. “I’m not sure that’s practical.”

The district has until May 15 to notify teachers if they will be laid off. The school board will begin voting on the cuts at its next meeting on May 11.

In other business, the board approved purchasing Math Connects as the new K-8 math curriculum. The new curriculum is already funded in this year’s budget.

Nina Culver can be reached at (509) 927-2158 or via e-mail at ninac@spokesman.com.

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