1113 What budget cuts look like

1113 What budget cuts look like

Beyond dollar signs: how budget cuts look in the classroom

By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff Writer

When educators talk about the funding for public education in Kentucky, you hear numbers: millions of federal and state dollars lost, the need to restore funding to 2008 levels, how much this year’s local tax rate will generate, how much this or that district had to cut.

But what do these figures represent in central offices, in school buildings, in classrooms, in the lives of individual students? And how much worse is it going to get? Those questions reflect what Edmonson County Schools Superintendent Patrick Waddell says is his biggest worry.

“When’s it going to stop?” he said. “If our goal is to get kids college and career ready – and that’s a wonderful goal to have – but to do that we’ve got to have the resources, not only for our college-bound kids but for our career-bound kids. Districts across the board need to be offering more electives, more career training. We’re focusing on the core. And it all takes funding.

“To get to where we need to be we’ve got to ensure that the funding is coming in to education. We can’t be cutting education.”

Knott County Schools Superintendent Kim King thinks it’s time for her peers and others to lobby their lawmakers. “I don’t know that we’ve actually made enough noise about the effect this is having on us,” she said. “We may say it in this office, but if you don’t get out and tell it, they don’t know how it’s hurting. And it’s going to end up hurting kids.”

On these pages, you’ll find snapshots that show the effect of reduced funding on multiple facets of primary and secondary education from districts in every part of the state.

Budget cuts: Where it hurts

Without textbook funding from the state, said Todd County Superintendent Wayne Benningfield, “We’re not able to purchase the materials that go along with the new Common Core Standards.”
It’s been eight to 10 years since Cumberland County Schools bought new textbooks, according to Superintendent Glen Allen Murphy.

Sutton said Lyon County educators go online to try to find used textbooks in good condition instead of new ones to replace those that are no longer useable. “I don’t know how long that will last because at some point all used books are going to be unusable,” he said.

The situation also creates additional work for teachers, who have to search the Internet and other sources for supplemental materials, Sutton said.

School safety
Until last year, a school resource officer spent the entire day on the campus of Lyon County Schools, which encompasses all three of the system’s schools. Because state safe schools funding was cut, the district had to drop its arrangement with the Eddyville Police Department, Superintendent Quin Sutton said.

Since then, a deputy sheriff monitors the hallways and buildings only before school starts, with an occasional visit during the day.

“We no longer have someone on the scene all the time as our go-to person when we have an issue,” Sutton said. “The biggest concern of mine is this: When you have that police officer’s car parked on campus the entire day, there’s no way to measure what type of criminal activity was deterred just because of the presence of a police officer’s car.”
Staffing cuts have resulted in split classes – two grades in a combined class in Jackson Independent. Teachers make it work, “but anytime you have to have a split, I don’t think you’re optimizing the educational experience for any child,” said Superintendent Kyle Lively. “I don’t think you’re jeopardizing it, but I don’t think you’re optimizing what they could be getting.”

Lively said the funding situation has created larger class sizes than the district would like at the lower elementary and primary levels, where the need for individualized learning is intense.

Edmonson County Schools Superintendent Patrick Waddell, also anticipating larger class sizes, recalled his time as a sixth-grade teacher with 34 students in his class after a year with just 21.
“I was able to do a whole lot more with 21 students than I was 34 students,” he said. “I was able to have better communication with parents, more one-on-one instruction, more small group instruction and more cooperative learning took place. At times I felt with a larger class I was more of a manager than a teacher.”

The whole child
With the cut of a school nurse position at Paducah Independent Middle School, the school has to share the services of elementary school nurses, which has “delayed the response to serve student needs for non-emergencies and left gaps in available service times at our three elementary schools and middle school,” according to pupil personnel director Troy Brock. Despite the cut, the district’s cost for nurses rose by $30,000 this year.

In Harlan County, cuts have meant the loss of a high school drug counselor in that drug-plagued region of the state and one of four school psychologists, who, in addition to counseling, provided diagnostic testing for the system’s increasing number of special education students. The goal is to preserve teaching positions, but that comes at a different kind of cost, Superintendent Mike Howard said.

“When you have as many at-risk students as we have, it’s more than just the teacher in the classroom,” he said. “If you go back to the community aspect of it, the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child: It takes more than just the teacher to educate a student in our schools today. Because there’s just too many aspects to these children’s lives that we have to affect.”

Similarly, Carter County’s middle schools will feel the effect of going from two counselors to one. The counselors double as class schedulers as well, “so there are less people available to talk to students, to try to mentor them,” Superintendent Ronnie Dotson said.

Business and technology programs initially were cut in Todd County Schools. Benningfield said some business offerings have been partially restored and he’s hoping a new vocational school will shore up what had to be cut.

“I’ve lost staff that I really desperately need, and it’s also impacted learning in the classroom because you don’t have as many options for kids at the high school level. When you start cutting, when you get to a certain point, you lose programs. And that affects college and career readiness,” he said.

Carter County schools are still able to offer music and art but to a lesser degree because of teacher cuts, Dotson said.

Jackson Independent could no longer afford a Spanish teacher – last year’s seniors had to attend dual-credit classes at Lee’s College for their Spanish class, while the district’s vaunted chess program would have been eliminated had it not been for the financial support of the district’s education foundation.
PHOTO: Southgate Independent Superintendent Jim Palm has a hand in making sure students get music class five days a week after budget cuts pared it down to four days. On Fridays, Palm teaches both beginning and intermediate band, pictured here. Art class was similarly cut and staffing cuts have also created one split class at the PS-8 district.

Field trips
Southgate Independent Schools Superintendent Jim Palm says the district used to be able to send students to Cincinnati – just up the road from the northern Kentucky district – more frequently for field trips to museums and the zoo. That practice has been cut back, which he says could affect the district’s assessment in program review areas. “It’s so much easier to learn something when you actually see it,” he said.

More importantly, perhaps, is another type of impact on the many low-income students in his district. “We know in today’s society that a lot of our students, if they do not have those experiences through school, they will not have those experiences, because parents are strapped at home just trying to put three meals a day on the table. They don’t have the funds to expose kids to the arts, the museum center, the zoo, all those things that enrich what they’ve learned in the classroom,” Palm said.

After-school programs
The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Center program has been the salvation of Morgan County’s after-school program in two schools, but the program at the other schools “is very lean, very much scaled back,” Superintendent Deatrah Barnett said.

“In this time of trying to meet every individual child’s needs, we’re scaling back on the ESS (extended school services) we have to offer. Our summer program is getting more and more difficult to continue,” she said.

The 21st Century funding is all that’s shoring up the after-school programs in Todd County Schools, said Benningfield. “Extended School Services has been cut back to where we really don’t have any,” he said.

In Jackson Independent, the school board was forced to cut district funding to transport elementary, middle school and junior varsity students to sporting events, academic meets and other extracurricular trips for clubs. At the varsity level, each student group will be limited to eight trips during the school year.

“That’s just a luxury we can no longer do,” said Superintendent Lively, who describes his district as “needy but not feeble.”

 “We want our kids to represent the school and I think it’s a sad day whenever we can’t make them feel good about that by transporting them there.”

The district is relying on parents and booster clubs to provide either funding for the district to provide the transportation or the transportation itself. The ability of students to participate in those activities is important on many levels, Lively said, including teaching students how to prioritize, building their college resumes and boosting them academically.

“A lot of kids, other than vocational and other career exploratory ideas, that’s the reason they’re here a lot of times – to be involved in those clubs and those activities,” he said.

Teacher support
Carter County Schools improved in almost every aspect of its most recent TELL (teaching, empowering, leading and learning) school climate survey except one: teacher support.

“We tried not to cut classroom teachers so anyone who was a support to a school we’ve pretty much had to do away with,” Dotson said, adding that has an effect on morale.

“We had instructional coaches that worked at schools. We had to do away with those positions. We had computer lab assistants that helped in computer lab. We had to do away with those positions. Gosh, there’s been so many I can’t even remember what all they have been – lots of different support positions for teachers,” he said.

Edmonson County schools, which also lost curriculum specialists, can expect less support from the central office, which also saw cuts. “When we’re making districtwide cuts, that puts more of an emphasis back on the principals to have to compensate for those areas as well,” Superintendent Waddell said.

State funds for professional development opportunities for teachers also have been slashed. “Teachers want to go to trainings and workshops and sometimes we just have to say no because we don’t have the funds for it,” Southgate’s Palm said. “Our teachers are not getting the latest and best practices to implement the new curriculum with our students.”

Morgan County Schools’ goal is to get as close to a one-to-one technology program as possible, but that is out of reach right now, Barnett said, especially after the district lost about $8 million in property value after a 2012 tornado.

Of her $75,000 technology budget this year, all but $20,000 will go toward licensing fees and maintenance. And the price tag for updating the district’s technology that is five-plus years old is $373,000. “We have more needs than we have money,” Barnett said.

In Todd County, a majority of teachers’ computers are more than seven years old and there’s not enough money to upgrade, said Benningfield.

“The state has spent a lot of money on infrastructure but the legislators have not been able to maintain funding for us to have computers at the other end of it,” he said.

The computers are so old and slow that loading and downloading within new software is difficult and glitch-prone, he said. Because of this, the district also has had a “sizeable issue,” he said, with teachers being able to use the new CIITS (Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System), which is a major source for multimedia instructional resources linked to the state’s new academic standards. Teachers also are expected to upload their lesson plans to the system.

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