Middle school students would be offered after-school intramural sports as a replacement for a regular sports program, under a budget proposal outlined Wednesday night at the school board meeting.
Elimination of the sports program and the reduction of kindergarten to a half-day program are among several changes recommended by Superintendent Thomas Shea as the budget heads for a vote by the board next week, followed by a public hearing on May 8 and a vote by residents on May 15.
Shea said, "There’s been no mandate relief and there’s a tax cap." Referring to state politicians who voted to require a tax cap on schools and other government bodies, he said, "They lack the political will to do the mandate relief."
Numerous speakers stepped to the microphone at Wednesday's meeting to support their favorite programs while suggesting other programs were less important.
When students and others spoke on behalf of the dance program and trying to ensure classes would be saved, another speaker retorted, "It is ludicrous we are talking about dance when you’re talking about cutting kindergarten. I don’t know where your heads are at if that’s what we’re talking about."
One teacher who has been laid off four times by the district delivered an emotional plea for recognition of the personal pain inflicted by budget cuts, while others criticized or spoke up for unionized employees. Some wanted the teachers' union to commit to a hard salary freeze while others noted that their unions had already provided givebacks.
A parent looking to save programs from elimination asked, "Would all of these cuts be saved if there was a pay freeze? Why can’t we do this? We have to work together. We are in desperate times. And that means desperate measures.””
Other speakers suggested other ways to bring in revenue, including a public-private effort, grant writing, bake sales or selling off certain buildings or properties.
But it was the kindergarten issue that had the most response, with parents, teachers and board members all agreeing that cutting kindergarten could creat long-term losses in student achievement.
Several parents expressed fears that their children would lose ground by having half-day kindergarten or wouldn't be prepared for state-mandated tests in fourth grade. Shea, along with board president Jim Kaden and other board members, concurred as they have previously, saying district students would suffer under the cuts.
One teacher asked, "If you remove half the education to save money, how can we possibly contnue to make yearly progress?"
A resident noted that, "We cannot fundraise to save kindergarten; we can fund raise to save sports. We cannot afford to lose full day kindergarten whereas with a sport…I’ts possible to save sports in other ways."
Kaden said the board had discussed fundraising for sports. "We talked to the Booster Club, and you could fund raise. It’s one thing to do it with contingency; it’s much more difficult to tell people to not only fund raise it this year and the next year and the next year."
Several people in the audience mentioned the district's reputation if it continued to cut back its programs, including kindergarten.
As the nearly five-hour workshop continued, some speakers criticized the board, which moved member Ed Nitkewicz to respond, ""I ask everyone who comes to the microphone to be careful about suggesting that anyone who serves on a school board does not care about the children...These are terribly difficult decisions we are faced with. Make any suggestions or statements you would like us to consider, but when you end your plea by adding that we do not care about the children, you lose your audience. Accusations like that should be thrown around as freely as manhole covers."
The half-day proposal includes converting 21 teaching positions from full time to part time. Afternoon day care would be available at parent expense.The cuts are designed to save $1,104,305.
Some changes in proposed cuts were made in the last week.They include:
Reducing teaching staff by 19.2 positions instead of 20.2, with on the elementary level and 9.2 at the secondary level
Restore the golf, bowling and swimming teams
Restored several clerical and maintenance and buildings and ground positions.
Sports, Extracurricular CutsMiddle school sports $180,158 Intramural program added -$31,000 Bowling, golf and swimming added -$29,000 Net Reduction $120,158
Patch will have more in the coming days on the school transportation issue.