Compromise reached over DMS cutsSchool District 206 administrators and school board members listened when teachers, students and parents voiced concerns over a proposed change in next year’s 7th and 8th grade schedules.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
School District 206 administrators and school board members listened when teachers, students and parents voiced concerns over a proposed change in next year’s 7th and 8th grade schedules.
The proposed schedule change at Discovery Middle School (DMS) would have left students making a choice in their exploration classes, such as having to choose between music and art.
With a packed room of teachers, students and parents at Monday night’s regular school board meeting, school board members – along with administrators – listened again before making a decision on the schedule change.
District 206 leaders, including Julie Critz, director of teaching and learning and Judy Backhaus, human resources director, presented different 7th and 8th grade schedules than what was presented at last month’s school board meetings. The new schedules – although they both still involve moving from seven periods to six – eliminate the need for students to make choices between art and music.
The new proposed schedule for 7th graders includes having phy ed/swimming, music (this includes band, choir, orchestra or general music) and art on a three-day rotation schedule. In addition, the exploration classes, which include design and modeling, computer tech, health, family and consumer science, drama and magic of electrons, will be offered to all students. However, they will run for six weeks, instead of nine or 18 weeks.
The new proposed schedule for 8th graders includes having phy ed/swimming, music (this includes band, choir, orchestra or general music) and computer technology on a three-day rotation schedule. In addition, the exploration classes, which include automation and robotics, art, French, Spanish, family and consumer science and health, will be offered to all students. However, they will run for six weeks, instead of nine or 18 weeks.
Critz said the new proposed schedules are not choice-based schedules.
“Students do not have to choose between classes now,” she said.
Backhaus reminded school board members that finances are the driving force behind the changes and that it is “truly a reflection of the economy.”
She explained that state funding has been flat and that the school district has had to borrow because of it. In turn, she said, the district is going to see shortfalls in its budget – now and in the coming years.
For the 2011-2012 school year, the district needs to make nearly $800,000 in cuts to its budget. By changing the 7th and 8th grade schedules at DMS, $300,000 would be taken care of. However, Backhaus explained that the district would still have to make $500,000 in cuts.
“We don’t want to hurt people, we want to hang onto people,” Backhaus explained to the crowd. “We worked hard so far not to cut people, but there will be more cuts from the elementary and high school coming up.”
More than a dozen comments or questions were made during the meeting by teachers, parents and students.
One parent wanted to know why phy ed class wasn’t on the chopping block because she felt it was unnecessary because her child could play outside at home.
Critz informed her that phy ed class is mandated by the state and that a school district can’t eliminate it.
Another parent wondered about class sizes and if they would be increasing. Critz said for right now they should remain the same, but added that she can’t guarantee it will stay that way in the future.
Another parent questioned why the district has so many paraprofessionals and wondered if cuts could be made to that staff.
Critz explained that the vast majority of paras are paid by using Title I funds or special education funding. She said there are restrictions on paras that a school district has no control over.
A student asked about drama class and was informed by Critz that it is still being offered but that it was moved from 8th grade to 7th grade.
One parent commented that it is hard not to be emotional about all of this because of the students. She expressed her gratitude toward the district and the school board and said she realized that there are going to be some “painful” decisions in the coming months. She stressed, however, that the key point is for the school district – including administrators, school board members and teachers – to work on communication with parents.
“This is going to be painful,” she said. “I’m not sure how you’re going to do it. This is just the beginning.”
Another parent questioned whether or not the school district has looked at closing any of its schools, such as the elementary schools in Garfield, Miltona or Carlos or maybe even combining schools.
School Board Chair Dean Anderson said the district is trying to do its best and do what’s right by the students.
Jean Robley, school board member, spoke up and said that the district continues to focus on putting kids first, but that the state and federal government keeps “tightening the noose.”
She expressed gratitude toward everyone who was at the Monday night meeting.
“Parents and teachers are concerned about the future and we are right out there with you,” said Robley.
She encouraged, teachers and students to not only voice their concerns at the local level to school board members and school administrators, but also to contact their legislators, governor, senators and president. “Let them know how you feel,” she stated. “It is going to get painful.”
Another school board member, Dave Anderson, echoed Robley’s thoughts and said that Alexandria is not unique in this situation; it is happening in other school districts around the state.
“It hurts. I sympathize with you, but we have to do something here,” he said. “We are listening. We hear you but we’ve got to do something.”
After an hour-long discussion, the board voted on whether or not to change the schedules for 7th and 8th grade students from a seven-period day to a six-period day.
The vote was unanimous to make the change to a six-period day. However, Critz noted that the schedule presented is not set in stone and the district will continue to work on it. The layout of the schedule is set to come before the board at next month’s meeting.