After Questions Surface on Staffing Cuts, School District Announces Community Meeting on Budget for May 28
What was expected to be a pro forma rundown and approval of the preliminary budget prompted some heated reactions from parents at the school district’s last board meeting, where the Preliminary Budget was passed with two negative votes. Apparently the concerns that flared have caused the scheduling of a community meeting on the budget set for May 28. The date had already been set aside as a Community Update gathering, but no topic was spelled out.
“The board asked the administration to offer an opportunity for the community to discuss the issues raised regarding the librarian and reading specialists and any other concerns pertinent to the budget now that the proposed budget is posted,” Board Vice President Jim Butt told Citizens’ Call. Board member Napoleon Nelson, who voted “no” on the budget along with board president Tina Viletto, said his vote was based on technical concerns that have since been clarified.
The issue was the impact on educational programs of a slice of savings in the overall $98.2 million budget related to attrition – the loss of now vacant positions that would not be included in the next budget cycle – that provoked a group of parents at the May 7 meeting to question whether the district’s assurances that programs would be unaffected by budget cuts were still accurate. A recent print news report cited board member Marc Lieberson saying, “We were provided assurance by the administration that this would not affect programs.”
A slide in Business Affairs Director Matt Malinowkski’s April 30 budget hearing presentation, for example, said:
All position openings evaluated to maintain programs, meet needs and review option for reduction in baseline costs. Budget target savings will be up to $905,000 through attrition of 1 administrator, 3 specialists (nurse, elementary library, high school guidance), 1 support staff position
One parent told Citizens’ Call that the source of the concern about the impact of the loss of the positions proposed for attrition was various informal conversations between parents and district employees.
At this point, there appears to be confusion around which positions are being proposed for attrition. In addition to the positions referenced by Malinowski in his April 30 presentation, which includes a vice principal at the high school, a nurse, a librarian at Myers, a high school guidance counselor and a high school athletic secretary, some parents at Myers believe that a reading specialist slot there will also be lost. In an email exchange last week, Malinowski provided some additional background on the proposed cuts, but no mention was made of the reading specialist. A series of clarifications requested were first put off until this week before Citizens’ Call learned that there would be no further response beyond a district website posting on the budget that would be put out “to the entire community soon.” Communications Director Susan O’Grady confirmed the plan.
Here’s a rundown of what can be reported to this point. According to Malinowski, the five positions will result in an annual savings up to $905,000, with more projected for the future. Related to the vice principal, the business affairs director said CHS Principal Andrew Kuhn will manage the change by shifting responsibilities within his administrative team. On the nurse’s position, Malinowski said, “we have found great flexibility for coverage with service to public and nonpublic students by filling the position with two half-time positions.” It remains unclear how many nurses, all LPNs (licensed practical nurses), will be covering which schools if the proposal is approved. The loss of the librarian slot, based on a mid-year retirement, was identified by building principals as feasible since the district is “unique” in that all libraries are staffed with an aide, he said. What services, if any, Myers students will lack in comparison to the three other elementary schools with librarians has not been spelled out. (Citizens’ Call requested a job description for librarians – not received – but did not file a Right-to-Know request.) Malinowski said that a contractual requirement for a minimum number of specialists was being met with this approach.
The loss of the guidance position will be compensated for with an additional counselor from Lakeside School, already under contract with the district for alternative education services. In response to a question on the ratio of guidance counselors to students, the business affairs director said based on an evaluation by the district, “the guidance case loads for career counseling remain aligned with other area school districts.” The loss of the athletic secretary will result in an adjustment changing an existing 10-month to a 12-month position.
In this clouded context, newly filled high-end administrative positions include the director of education and the director of transportation.
The May 28 budget meeting is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 pm at the district’s Administration Building, 2000 Ashbourne Road. Assistant Superintendent Michael Lowe will make a presentation followed by Q&A.
A final vote by the board on the budget, which requires a 1.7 percent property tax increase, is set for June 11.