Budget Problems: New cuts for he new year

Once again, due to the weak economy and state-level cuts to education, the Ames Community Schools District is faced with budget cuts. Currently, about 83% of the budget is personnel costs, 11% are fixed costs, and 5-6% are consumable costs such as teacher materials and copying. “Budget cuts tend to be focused on consumable costs, since we don’t want to cut personnel,” Principal Mike McGrory said. But as Interim Superintendent Tim Taylor has proposed $3 – 3.5 million in cuts, “personnel is going to be cut. There’s no way around it,” McGrory said. At this point, it’s essentially a given that some teaching, administrative, secretarial, and educational assistant positions will be eliminated; some non-core, elective classes in the art, family and consumer science, industrial tech, and business departments will be cut; and class sizes will be increased, thereby increasing teachers’ workloads. A variety of other cost-saving methods have been proposed and/or considered by the school board. Among them: not paying teachers for after-school supervision of activities; cutting all labs, math seminar, and music lessons; abolishing most elementary and middle school music programs; and changing the middle school into a junior high (i.e. abolishing the teams concept and making the middle school more like the high school in terms of teachers). Of course, not all of these plans are totally possible to carry out. Regarding the plan to cut elementary and middle school music programs, English teacher Joe Brekke said, “They can’t do that. People will riot.” Among staff, the top concern is for students’ education. “The needs of kids nowadays are so varied, and it’s just so hard to meet all those needs,” guidance counselor Julie Bryant said. “They keep saying to do more with less, but how do we do that without the resources?” Bryant is worried that our school “will be leaving more kids behind.” Social studies teacher Kirstin Sullivan would like to see cuts that don’t directly affect the students. “I just want the decisions to be made educationally, not fiscally,” Sullivan said. Among students, the top priority is saving teachers. Most acknowledge the inevitability of teacher cuts, but many say they’d rather see class sizes increase, non-teaching positions reduced, and P.E. and Health cut. However, some institutions are almost holy in students’ eyes and would most certainly not go quietly. If the school board tried to cut science labs, orchestra, the yearbook, or this magical newspaper, you can be certain of major protests. If there is a silver lining in this mess, it’d be that teachers and administrators at each level of education will now have a larger say in decisions and the decisions will be more student friendly. The policy at Ames High had always been to let students register first and then cut classes for which enrollment had been too low, but former superintendent Dr. Beyea wanted to change that. She had also suggested cutting 30-50 teachers without noting cuts with administrators. Not only is such a plan not educationally friendly, but it shows a disregard for equity. “It’s inevitable that there’ll be personnel cuts,” English teacher James Webb said. “But we want to see that the administration is going to take their lumps too.” “Whenever I mention these issues to people outside education,” English teacher Darin Johnson said, “they say, ‘Stop complaining. we’ve all had cuts.’” It’s really a shame anyone would say that since these budget cuts have the potential to drastically affect the quality of education that students receive. It also shows that there are still some misconceptions regarding last year’s cuts floating around. The pay raises? Insurance costs went up last year, so salaries were raised in part to compensate. Those plasma TV’s? They were a donation. In the next fiscal year, we might even see building renovations or other improvements in infrastructure while teachers are being laid off. It’s unfortunate and there’s not much the district can do about this – by state law, schools have certain pools of money that must be spent towards infrastructure, salaries, and so on, and the money from one pool can’t be spent towards another area. Everyone’s saying that the way in which schools are funded needs to change. But no one has really stepped forward with a viable alternative. If we don’t do something soon, Ames High School, God forbid, might slide off U.S. News and World Report’s list of nationally ranked top high schools. And we all know that that’d be a blooming shame.