In today’s mail, we received an update from the T/E School Board – focused on the 2011-12 budget and the corresponding challenges facing the school district. The looming deficit facing the school district is a staggering $8.8 million. Reasons for the deficit include continuing decrease of revenue, salaries, increased teacher pension contributions and rising health care costs. These factors remain relatively unchanged from the 2010-11 school year.
The million-dollar question (or rather the nearly 9 million-dollar question) is how to solve the deficit problem. The school board will undoubtedly vote in favor of increasing property tax by 1.4% for the 2011-12 school year, which is the limit permitted by the Act I index set by the State. This move will provide the district with approximately $1.2 million in revenue . . . clearly, not close to the $8.8 million deficit. The district already has some cost cutting measures in place including the elimination of the FLES (foreign language in the elementary school program). There is also discussion of requesting an Act I exception that would provide an additional $2.4 million in revenue by increasing property taxes by an additional $2.8%. These suggestions will help decrease the deficit situation but do not eliminate the problem.
So what other cost-cutting measures can the school district take? Suggestions include (1) optimizing staffing – additional high school teachers will teach 6 periods instead of five; (2) restructure the high school program for 42 periods instead of the current 48 periods; (3) eliminate German and Latin in the middle school: and (4) continue to implement operational efficiencies.
There are some important T/E School Board meetings coming up in January. There is a special School Board meeting on January 3 at 7:30 PM to vote on using eligible Act 1 exceptions. If the Board votes to apply for exceptions, the School Board will present a preliminary budget on January 4 for public comment. The School Board will vote on the 2011-12 budget on January 24.
If you do not have children in the school district, it can be difficult to understand the impact of the cost-cutting suggestions. Conestoga High School students will be impacted if the school board members decide to restructure the high school program. I was curious if the students were surveyed (or asked) to offer their opinion on the proposed programming changes at the high school. By chance, I saw the following editorial in the recent edition of ‘The Spoke’, Conestoga’s newspaper. The opinion article speaks directly to student concerns in regards to possible programming changes.
No to proposed class cuts
Posted on 21 December 2010 by the Spoke Newsdesk
This article originally appeared on page 7 of the Dec. 21, 2010 issue of The Spoke.
The school district has proposed a plan that would cut down certain Conestoga elective courses from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle, a proposal that, The Spoke editorial believes, would have drastic repercussions in the future.
When asked what makes Conestoga unique when compared to other high schools, most students will not hesitate in answering that it is the wide variety of classes that the school offers. Elective courses offered here, ranging from AP Music Theory to Culinary Arts, allow the school to foster a sense of creativity and imagination that goes far in providing a well-rounded education.
Because of the ongoing budget crisis, however, the school district has proposed a plan that would, if passed on Jan. 3, jeopardize these elective courses. The district plans to remove some classes from the program of studies while cutting down the majority of them, including popular courses like Beginning TV and Ceramics 1, from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle. While this initially might not seem like a substantial decrease, it is sure to have repercussions in the future.
Though it is understandable that continuing some classes is economically unfeasible considering our current fiscal situation, the school should not cut down these important courses that offer students a way to creatively express themselves. Because many students at Conestoga take academically challenging courses, often filling up their schedules with Advanced Placement and Honors classes, they look at these classes as outlets that offer them both an entertaining and relaxing break. Such elective courses also allow students to branch out their interests so that they can focus on artistic or vocational skills, rather than center their high school careers on strictly academic disciplines. Most of the classes require students to gain a cumulative understanding of the topic, something that is difficult for the teacher to instill if classes only meet half of the cycle. Students are bound to forget important information and teachers will have to sacrifice valuable class minutes when classes resume next cycle. Therefore, students who eventually progress to the Advanced level classes might not be as proficient as others in past years and so the advanced matter will have to be diluted to compensate for information not taught in the limited amount of time.
By choosing to make these decisions about elective courses, the district will in essence stifle the uniqueness and creativity that thrives in our school community. In the past, students have left Conestoga knowing that they have had the opportunity in our high school to hone their artistic, technical and vocational skills.
Though The Spoke’s editorial board consists of mostly upperclassmen, we nevertheless lament the loss of the six-day elective courses, and are especially saddened by the fact that the underclassmen will not be able to capitalize on the many opportunities that we once took for granted.
We understand that Conestoga is among the elite in the country when it comes to offering students the luxury of elective courses and so we plead the district to reconsider their proposal. By limiting or eradicating some of these cherished courses, Conestoga risks its reputation as a place where creativity is fostered and originality is nurtured.