April 18, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 15

District identifies $250K in cuts

Haines Borough school board members debated budgeting strategies at a workshop Monday that at times became pointed.

At issue is a projected $435,000 shortfall, partially due to declining enrollment, and how to fill it. Superintendent Michael Byer has proposed eliminating a full-time teaching position, an idea resisted by some board members who spoke this week.

Another question for board members is how much in additional funds to seek from the Haines Borough. The borough currently contributes about $1.55 million to the district’s $5.9 million budget, or $280,000 less than the maximum that state law allows the municipality to give.

The district’s budget assumes a $300,000 district fund balance, no increase in the borough’s contribution, and no changes to the budget that might come from contract negotiations currently under way with the teachers’ union.

During a budget workshop last week, board members identified $250,000 in potential cuts, including $70,000 from a teaching position currently held by Kerry McIver. McIver teaches math at the high school and junior high levels.

Last week, member Anne Marie Palmieri said she didn’t want cutting McIver’s position to be a “foregone conclusion.” “Especially because this is math, I’d like to take another look at this with the big picture,” Palmieri said.

On Monday, principals Michelle Byer and Cheryl Stickler presented a “leveled” math program for grades six, seven and eight based not on grade level, but on ability, one that would be in place if McIver’s position is eliminated. Five math classes would serve students of varying ability at those grade levels.

Other possible changes include:

· Assigning high school math teacher Matt Davis to teach geometry as well as a classroom including pre-algebra students and students taking calculus by distance delivery;

· Merging Business Math and Personal Finance into a single class; and

· Having Darwin Feakes, who currently teaches voc-ed classes, teach Applied Math.

Palmieri said she appreciated the reshuffling, but questioned what programs the district would lose by having others fill the gap left by eliminating the position. “What if we didn’t have to do that? What if we had that flexibility? I think we should keep (the position) on the table and make that (cut) only if it’s a financial decision.”

Besides trying to save the position, the board should seek an additional $168,000 from the borough, Palmieri said. That’s the amount of the current district deficit, counting the $248,000 in cuts identified last week.

Board member Sara Chapell said she was concerned about the loss of an early literacy program that’s ending this year, with no plans for continuation. The part-time program was led by veteran teacher Jeanne Kitayama.

The program grew out of the district’s strategic planning goal of having students reading at grade level by third grade.

Chapell said a child of hers benefited from the program. She expressed concern that extra time for after-school instruction already was being curtailed. “I think that extra push we put into literacy in the early grades was starting to make a difference. I don’t know. I feel like we’re losing something.”

Chapell bristled at statements by other board members that the cuts were inevitable. “I want to be focused on the most important things for these little kids. Our kids deserve the best start.”

Board chair Brenda Jones said that prudence required the board to look at enrollment numbers and react accordingly. “I think we need to make staffing changes.”

Principal Stickler said curriculum changes may help institutionalize Kitayama’s work. “(Kitayama’s position) wasn’t going to be sustainable forever. We have to look at how we can do those same things in the regular school day,” said Michelle Byer.

The $248,000 in identified cuts includes eliminating two special education aides whose positions won’t be necessary due to changes in student population. Other cuts included ones to supplies and equipment, including $23,850 in professional development for staff.

Superintendent Byer said the district should look at raising user rates for Community Education. Those fees haven’t increased for more than five years, he said.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 30 in the high school social studies room. The district is expected to approve its budget in May. Byer said he may be able to make projections about the effect of contract negotiations on the budget by then.