School start under scrutinyThis is the second of a two-part question and answer series addressing questions raised by the Superior School Board’s proposed plan to change school bell times.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
This is the second of a two-part question and answer series addressing questions raised by the Superior School Board’s proposed plan to change school bell times.
The Superior School Board will discuss possible changes to school bell times at the committee of the whole meeting on May 7 and vote on the matter at the regular meeting on May 14. In anticipation of a high crowd turnout, both meetings will be held at Superior Middle School.
How did the administration decide to change bus routes and bell times?
When the Superior school district learned it will face an estimated $700,000 budget shortfall for the 2012-13 school year, the administration went to work looking for savings. Superintendent Janna Stevens said the district began by evaluating all retirements to see if any positions could be left unfilled.
“We’ve looked at that. We’ve already made huge cuts and we can’t find anywhere that we can trim,” Stevens said. “Last year, a minimum of six positions were not filled: two administration positions were not filled, two teacher spots were not filled and two support staff positions were not filled. So we’ve already adjusted and put things on different plates.”
The Superior school district has already seen an increase in class sizes, Stevens said, and the student-to-teacher ratio would climb even higher if positions were eliminated.
Stevens and business manager Jack Amadio also reviewed all of the district’s department budgets and managed to find savings, but they were not nearly enough to offset the $700,000 needed.
“When there’s no money and you have to reduce, it’s like a shell game,” Amadio said. “You have to make choices that are the least disruptive to what your mission is.”
The administration decided changes to the transportation routes would have the least impact on student education and began reworking bus routes in December. By consolidated routes and changing bell times to accommodate, the administration estimated it could save $170,000, with the remainder of the $700,000 coming from changes to the employee health care plan.
“We felt this was something that wasn’t too big of an impact,” Amadio said. “Apparently we were wrong.
“If the community feels this is not something we should be doing, then we’ll do something else.”
How will the new bell times save the district money?
Savings for the district will come primarily from increased efficiency in bus routes. The new bell times allow the district to eliminate runs and maximize bus capacity.
“This could be a cost savings for the district, not only because of the elimination of the runs and the start times with the personnel that we won’t need, but it’s also not having to purchase buses; it’s a reduction in our fleet. So there’s two big cost savings there,” Stevens said.
The district estimates it will save $122,000 by eliminating transportation routes, $40,000 by reducing fuel costs and $6,800 by reducing after-school supervision costs due to the new dismissal times.
What other options are available to cut costs?
The district is in the process of finalizing its employee health care plan for the 2012-13 school year. If the numbers are more favorable than expected, Stevens said the School Board may change course on the bell times proposal.
The administration expects to have firm numbers for health care costs by its May 7 meeting.
Another option the School Board has not discussed is cutting programs.
“A number of years ago we eliminated the band and orchestra at the elementary level, and that was a cost savings measure that the district did,” Stevens said.
If the Board chooses, it could consider eliminating programs not mandated by the state, such as foreign language, co-curricular programs or elective classes at the high school level.
“We looked at those and I said, ‘This is not in alignment with our mission. This isn’t right.’ And so I didn’t bring those to the Board,” Stevens said. “I cannot say (eliminating) any of those things would be good for our kids. We’re trying to provide all these kids with the tools to be successful.”
Stevens said the administration will present all options to the School Board at its next meeting, but she is strongly against cutting programs and believes the board members feel the same.
Why can’t money used for staff development days be put toward balancing the budget?
The school district recently allotted $180,000 to add three staff development days to the 2012-13 school calendar. Stevens said the three days are necessary because of curriculum changes mandated by the state.
“We absolutely have certain things we have to accomplish with staff development next year, and one of the things is the Common Core Standards that need to get embedded into our curriculum because those have been adopted by the state,” Stevens said.
To complete the curriculum work, the Board could have voted to pull teachers from their classes, which would have cost the district $180,000 to hire substitutes. Instead, the Board voted to pay each teacher a $500 stipend in exchange for putting three additional staff development days on the calendar.
“Either way that money has to get used,” Stevens said. “Now I know there’s some people that have said, ‘Well don’t give them a stipend.’ What I can say to that is, when you ask somebody to work three additional days, and we were going to use that money to hire subs, I believe it’s appropriate to offer some compensation. These are ungodly hard-working people, and I wish it could be more, but we know we can do that at a minimum.”
If the new bell times are adopted, what additional before- and after-school programs will be offered?
If the new bell times are adopted — which would have most elementary school children dismissed before 3 p.m. — parents may need additional daycare for their children. Stevens said the district is working to make sure families have options.
The local YMCA runs the Latchkey programs, and Stevens said the district has already been in touch with Jackie Minor, who oversees the programs.
“She knows what we’re proposing with the start times and she knows that might mean additional people need before-school daycare and after-school daycare,” Stevens said. “She wants to work very collaboratively with every school if they need additional staff to make that happen.”
The district will also continue to offer its after school programs at Northern Lights, Lake Superior and Superior Middle School.