Priorities. Ask anyone what their priority in life is and the answer most likely will be something that relates to the well being of their family. For parents, many will say their top priority is giving their children the best upbringing possible – including a good education.
But as I turned on the television to watch the Academy Awards last week, I once again wondered what the real priority is in our country. I am continually amazed at the amount of money that goes into film making and the salaries made by all involved in the industry. And what about professional athletes and the tax money spent to build bigger and better stadiums?
Unfortunately, our country may say its priority is education, but when it comes to funding for our public schools many find that hard to believe. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
With a 13 percent drop in enrollment over the last four years, Lake Pend Oreille School District, like many nationwide, has experienced a significant decrease in funding.
“While the school district not only expected major funding cuts at the state level due to our declining enrollment it also anticipated a struggling Idaho economy,” said district Superintendent Dick Cvitanich, who added that the severity of the state’s financial position was not anticipated.
According to Cvitanich, the state cut kindergarten through 12th grade funding by 7 percent this fiscal year and could cut it an additional 8.5 percent next fiscal year. The district also anticipates losing another 3 percent of its enrollment, largely due to the fact that many of these students’ families worked in the labor industry which has experienced a severe decline in North Idaho. But Cvitanich hopes that will change.
“Affordable housing for families is slowly starting to make its appearance,” he said. “This is good news.”
But until that time, Lake Pend Oreille School District has to deal with the numbers it has right now and that can only mean more cuts.
So how does a school district deal with such a blow to its budget? That is precisely what Cvitanich and the Lake Pend Oreille School Board are trying to figure out. And not everyone likes the answers.
One proposal is to close down Northside Elementary School, which has many parents concerned. But Cvitanich said that is just one of many options being considered.
“We are looking at all programs. Since over 80 percent of our budget is made up of staffing, that becomes a logical choice. We will definitely be reducing, however, we hope to address most of these cuts through retirements and attrition,” said Cvitanich. “These reductions will be in all categories: certified, classified and administrative. Our ongoing goal is to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.”
But what effect will these cuts have on both the students and the teachers?
“We know that reductions in staff will have an effect on the amount of time teachers can spend with children,” said Cvitanich, referring to the inevitable increase in class size.
But he adds that research shows that it is the teacher who makes the true difference in providing a quality education.
While that may be true, I know I am not alone when I say I am concerned for the teachers who must deal with increased class size while trying to teach to what is already a classroom of children whose academic abilities differ greatly.
As difficult as it has been for Cvitanich, I have been impressed with what he has accomplished during his tenure at the district. He is readily available to the community and eager to listen to input from parents. But he is in a difficult situation with the lack of funding available. Nonetheless, he is doing what he can to reassure families that their children’s education remains his top priority.
In an open letter to the community that is published on the district’s Web site, Cvitanich writes, “Despite what may be ahead for us in public education in Idaho, we do know our schools will open next year. There will be a warm building and an excited classroom teacher for each eager student. Staff will continue to work hard and we will attempt to provide the best learning environment possible given the situation.”
Yes, these are difficult times for our economy, but I am glad that there are people out there who still believe that educating our children is a number one priority.