Columbus City School Board members are looking at a smaller slate of budget cuts than presented to them last week.
But members are still under pressure to trim 15 million dollars from the budget to keep the district in the black. Alison Holm reports.
Some of the most drastic cuts presented to the board last week – dropping sports for middle schoolers, buses for high schoolers and trimming one period from the school day -- are off the table, now that a miscommunication with the governor’s office has been cleared up. District Treasurer Penny Rucker says it was discovered that the state’s account of the funding coming to Columbus under the governor’s proposed budget omitted $25 million currently allotted to the district for transportation and technical training. Although’ the correction takes some pressure off the district, she warns that history shows proposed state budget are often significantly slimmed down by passage.
Rucker: Governor Strickland’s formula I think we were going to get an additional 14… 12 and 14 million dollar increase, but the n after the legislative process it was significantly less than that that we received. It was more around a 3 million dollar, four million dollar increase the first year, and it was a little mover one million dollars in the next biennium.
Superintendent Gene Harris is still recommending the board approve 15 million dollars of cuts to insure the district can get thru the 2013-2014 school year without interruption. But she started last night’s board meeting by outlining some of the things that will not be cut. Harris says the district is not cutting the Arts program, but savings are possible thru consolidation. And she says the Gifted And Talented students program is not being cut – but it will be trimmed.
Harris: The reductions that we are recommended are non-classroom support areas. None of the Gifted and Talented members that we’re proposing be reduced work day to day with students. They do provide support to teachers, they do provide support to parents, they do provide support, but we’re going to have to allocate those duties to someplace else.
The options taken off the table will protect 103 teaching positions, but about 200 positions could still be cut. The Columbus Schools Employee Association’s Lois Carson says the jobs at risk come disproportionately from her union.
Carson: We’re slated to lose 95.5 target teach instructional assistants, 24 ESL instructional assistants, 10 secretaries, 2 head custodians, 25 custodians II, 3 mechanics, 1 parts clerk, 3 truck drivers, and 16 positions in the skilled trades. I know the public says: education first, teachers first, administrators first – but we, too, make a difference in the education. But every time the district wants to make a cut, they cut us first.
Not all of the positions on the block came from the union. Although’ the superintendent has resisted making cuts in the central office, she put some of those administrative positions on the table last night – a reduction she sees as substantial.
Harris: We’re pretty lean when you consider we are the largest school district in the state. And we are proposing a total – with the addition of the central office administrators – a total of 11 positions – 10 percent – of that 100 administrators.
Former school board member Stephanie Groce was one of several people at the meeting who challenged the board to dig deeper before making decisions.
Groce: To the best of my knowledge, none of you has reviewed a departmental budget for this district. You have hundreds of supervisors, managers, directors, coordinators, other professional, educational and teachers on special assignment – many of which are not classified as administrators, but instead as teachers, although’ they never stand before a child and teach. I fear that your blind trust of the administration has the unfortunate consequence of turning you into a ceremonial, rather than a governing, body.
Proposed cuts that remain on the table include cutting about 200 positions, eliminating some COTA bus passes, combining Dana Elementary with Starling Middle School and Clearbrook Middle School with Alum Crest, and further reducing services to unused facilities. No action was taken last night, but the superintendent urged the board to make decisions quickly, so she has time to give staff the required notice. A vote on the proposed budget cuts could come as quickly as next week.