School faculty, parents, discuss budget cuts

Published on Thu, Mar 24, 2011 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Roughly 80 Blaine school district staff and parents met Tuesday to start the months-long task of determining where cuts can be made to the 2011/2012 school year budget.

The meeting at the middle school cafeteria was the first of two at which district staff, faculty and members of the community are invited to share their thoughts on how the district should face impending cuts to state education funding. The school board must ultimately pass any reductions in the 2011/2012 budget in August.

The school district will most likely not know how much the state legislature will cut education funding until late April or May, Blaine superintendent Ron Spanjer said. The budget cuts discussed at the meeting are part of a worst-case scenario due to the as-yet unknown decisions of the state legislature, he explained.

“The [budget] reduction consideration list is certainly broader than we hope it will be,” Spanjer said.

Meeting attendees were asked to comment on proposed cuts to faculty and counselors, support staff, and district supply and athletic costs. Areas not put up for consideration included each of the school’s arts and music programs.

“This community is highly supportive of music,” district technology director Tim Connell said.

 Suggestions to cut one counselor from each school seemed to meet with the most resistance from faculty and staff.

Several teachers praised the work of the school counselors and worried how their absence would affect the students’ educational experiences. Rick VanderYacht, one of the two high school counselors, said he and his colleague are especially busy during the end of the school year advising high school seniors on the verge of graduation.

VanderYacht said he thinks cuts to the high school counseling program could harm the school’s graduation rates. He estimated about 30 students per year need counselors to help them with the final push toward graduation.

Stacy Thomas, a fourth grade teacher, said the elementary school counselor offers assistance to children both on a one-on-one basis and through group instruction in classrooms. She explained elementary teachers would have to serve double duty if her school’s counselor was eliminated.

“[The elementary school counselor] has a huge impact on our building,” Thomas said.

Other considerations included reductions in high and middle school coaching salaries, and an increase in school lunch prices that would bring in an additional $10,000. However, food service coordinator Laurie Pike said the additional $10,000 would likely just cover the cost of rising food prices and not represent new funds.

Pike explained 60 percent of the food service budget goes to salaries, while the rest goes to buying food. Pike said determining staffing reductions—at least one food server position is up for consideration—while dealing with the rising cost of food is going to be a dance.

“And it’s not going to be a pretty one,” she added.

It’s clear that neither faculty nor staff relish the thought of personnel cuts. Seventh grade language arts and history teacher Joy Garner said every one of the positions up for consideration has a human face behind it; someone that comes to work every day just like everyone else.

“This is a miserable job,” said VanderYacht, referring to the budget reduction process. “This is just a miserable job.”

The next budget forum will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, April 18, in the middle school cafeteria. The suggestions gathered from Tuesday’s meeting will be collected and reviewed for presentation and discussion at the April meeting.