By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
More discussion is necessary before the Clinton School Board can make staff cuts, board members decided Monday.
The board was faced with reducing a number of positions in order to make up for a more than $850,000 funding loss for next school year caused by the district’s reduced enrollment. Under the proposal board members voted on Monday, the district would reduce four seventh- and eighth-grade positions, one sixth-grade position, six kindergarten through fifth-grade positions, one high school world language position, one fifth through 12th grade instrumental music position, one preschool position, one high school auto trades position and half of a high school business position.
The reduction of elementary school teachers would be felt in third through fifth grades with class size increasing to 29 students. At the middle school level, class sizes at both campuses would be equal at 28-33 students per class.
This reduction package received a unanimous thumbs down from board members, with a resolve to discuss possible cuts they can agree to.
The board also voted on a separate resolution to terminate the associate principal at Washington Middle School. This position would be converted to a dean of students that would serve both middle schools during the 2013-2014 school year. Only board member Mercia Wolf voted in favor of this reduction. This will also be addressed again by board members.
Before the board members could discuss the cuts, they heard from a handful of people, including Washington Middle School language arts teacher Arica Jansen. Jansen asked the board to carefully consider the cuts before them in light of the move to a new middle school in the 2014-2015 school year, especially the move to eliminate the associate principal position.
“If you take that away from us, plus make those really really big changes next year all at once, you’re making life very hard and you’re not doing what’s best for kids,” Jansen said.
Two of the other community members who spoke asked the board not to reduce the auto trades position, which would require students to take the class at Clinton Community College rather than receiving the vocational training in high school. CHS Principal Karinne Tharaldson Jones said auto trades one and possibly auto trades two would still be offered with the staff reduction, but the culminating auto trade course would not be available. Some strands of business courses, which consist of marketing, administrative assistant, general business and accounting, would be dropped due to the cuts depending on what courses the school district could partner with Clinton Community College to provide.
Several board members agreed that the removal of an auto trades position and business courses that prepare kids for the working world would not be beneficial to the students. They were also stuck on the increased class sizes that would be an effect of the cuts.
“I know we have to make reductions, but coming from the classroom, I can’t vote for anything that raises class size or that gets rid of any kind of work-related courses,” Wolf said.
Board member Jim McGraw suggested waiting until the 2014-2015 school year when the new middle school will unite the students before making cuts to positions that serve those grade levels.
“I think the middle school will be the greatest thing since sliced bread for this community, but at the same time, we’re faced with another whole year. And I guess my thought, very strongly, is that we should not make the serious cuts that are being proposed this year and look next year at possibly making some additional modifications to programs,” McGraw said.
According to District CFO Jan Culbertson, the district’s budget for fiscal year 2014 included the proposed cuts.
“If the reductions don’t come as proposed or others in its place, yes, you will see a reduction in cash flow,” Culbertson said.
In recent years, the district has increased its cash flow. By moving forward without the budget reductions, the district would “take a step backwards,” Culbertson said.
While the discussions of staff reductions focused on the programming available to students, the discussion over the administrative reduction turned more towards the individual in the position. Deb Sass has served as the associate principal of Washington Middle School since 2008. Before coming to Washington, Sass was an associate principal at Clinton High School.
“I will not support it, I think Deb Sass when she was at the high school did a fantastic job and in my opinion I think she got kind of screwed over when she was principal up there. So now we’re trying to screw her over again now and I don’t agree with what we’re trying to do here,” board member Jack Wenzel said.
The switch from an associate middle school principal to a dean of students is expected to save the district $26,730.
“If $25,000 is going make or break this district then we’re in bad shape anyway,” Wenzel added.
Wolf said she felt the move to have someone who worked with students at both the Washington and Lyons campuses would be beneficial to the district.
“To have someone whose worked with kids at both buildings and parents at both buildings. So I thought that was a plus for this position,” Wolf said.
Superintendent Deb Olson said working with both groups of students would be the focus no matter what happened with the associate principal position.
Ultimately, board members voted down both motions and moved to discuss the reductions further during a special board meeting that will be scheduled for the week of March 18.
“It’s a big decision. We’ve talked about how difficult these decisions are and its because it directly affects people. Not just the students but employees of the district. I know anytime I’ve been exposed to decisions like this, you look at it and you look at again and you look at it again and you try to come up with the best scenario,” board member Devin Guillory said. “I certainly support that we should look. We should be sure we’re doing the best thing.”