Personnel cuts part of budget proposal




With state funding remaining in question, USD 457 schools may lose some positions next year.

During a program budgeting meeting last week, teachers, staff and community members decided to recommend fully funding elementary and middle school education, as well as health services.

Program budgeting is a process by which staff and community members prioritize funding for each of the district's 15 represented programs, ultimately recommending to the USD 457 Board of Education how much money they believe each should receive.

Kathleen Whitley, chief financial officer for the district, presented the information at Monday night's regularly-scheduled Board of Education meeting. No action was taken on the recommendation. The board will be asked to move on the measure at its next meeting.

All other programs are recommended to be funded at 98 percent, which could mean a cut of 17.5 positions in the district, totaling $800,000. Programs funded at 98 percent include high school instruction, special education, technology, counseling, transportation, media services, curriculum/assessment, supplemental services, plant facilities/maintenance, building administration, district-wide administration and activities.

The positions slated to be cut would include a high school teacher, two special education teachers, a half-position counselor, four bus drivers, four custodians, a painter, two bilingual paraprofessionals, two half-time library paras, an assistant principal and three special education paras.

Whitley said if elementary, middle school and health services would have been funded at 98 percent, those position cuts would have been more drastic.

"If those programs were funded at 98 percent, (cuts) would have been in the classroom more. This is kind of what prior years have been. We all know the teacher in the classroom probably has the most effect on the students out of anyone," Whitley said.

The budget for next school year is based on the base aid per student — $3,838 — staying the same as last year. Even if the amount remains the same, operating costs are increasing for the district, officials have said.

Board member Dr. Gloria Hopkins was on hand last week for the program budgeting process.

"The whole process was painful to hear. ... It was gut-wrenching," she said.

Whitley also reported an anticipated cut to federal programs, including Title I and the migrant program. Those programs aren't included in program budgeting.

"We're anticipating a 5 percent reduction in those funds next year, as well," she said.

Whitley anticipates the local option budget, which makes up 25 percent of the district's budget, will stay the same or increase slightly.

She said audit results from September may show a slight increase in enrollment. If that's the case, the district may have to slightly raise the LOB to keep it at 25 percent, she said. Increases in salaries for employees would lead to further cuts, Whitley said.

BOE members expressed their frustration in the lack of funding at the state level.

"It's really hurting our children. It's hurting our future," Clifford said.

The board also heard from the Kindergarten Retention Committee. Committee members recommended that kindergarten students who don't meet certain requirements repeat kindergarten until they meet those requirements. Committee representatives Monday night stressed the importance of parent involvement.

They said it's better to require kindergarten students to repeat that level rather than have to be held back later, which could lead to further social and academic setbacks.

Jean Clifford, BOE president, said she had some concerns if the school district mandated retention.

"I don't understand why we're imposing such a strict decision based on what appears to be a few assessments that really only provide a snapshot of that child's progress. ... I'm quite uncomfortable with making such a big decision on rather limited data," she said.

Clifford said having a meeting with parents and making a recommendation to those parents is a better option.

Teachers on the committee said the parents would be involved throughout the process.

Rick Atha, superintendent, said the board's action could include approving a pilot program in the district that studies how mandated retention would work.

The board took no action on the measure Monday night.

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