Schools: Jobs seem safe, budget cuts hard

Friday, May 7, 2010

No one's job in the school system is slated for elimination - yet.

That's according to discussion during the School Board's "brainstorming" session Monday evening.

No conclusions were reached on where to cut costs, but discussion revealed a serious shortage of money.

Schools Director Roy Dukes made it clear that he considers "instructional facilitators" essential for the elementary schools, though some board members expressed skepticism.

Instructional facilitators work with students and teachers to make sure each pupil makes one year's gain every school year, Dukes explained. President Obama's education package requires schools to focus on students that need help, but school systems also still have to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements.

"It's all about data-driven instruction," Dukes said, adding that the instructional facilitators will be able to use a computer to check every student's current, and predicted, scores on an "electronic dash board."

"Bottom line, " Randy Perryman asked, "you and your principals agree instructional facilitators are necessary?"

"Right," Dukes replied.

School Board member Craig Michael was more skeptical, questioning the amount of money spent on instructional facilitators.

"If we spend $300,000, we need to see value added," Michael said.

He noted that last year, 40 percent of principals wanted a different facilitator at their school.

"Are they all needed?" Ann Tears asked.

"Yes," replied Dukes. "We have a lot of students that need help."

School Board member Barbara Kennedy said, "We'd all feel better if we were certain they were all doing their jobs."

"Some teachers," Tears said, "are not using them" (the instructional facilitators).

Chairman Mike Keny said some people were telling him the instructional facilitators were "the best thing we've done for a long time."

Dukes stressed, "They've got to work with students."

Calling for close supervision of the facilitators, Kennedy said she's seen a great deal of paperwork that threatens to "bog them down."

Moving on to another potential budget cut, Kennedy said, "A class like Drivers' Ed does not do a thing for us on the Tennessee Diploma Project. That's $114,000 right there."

Michael advocated a fresh look at spending.

"It's not going to be business as usual in this county for the foreseeable future." Michael said.

He urged Dukes to look at the differences between jobs that the state's Basic Education Program (BEP) funds as necessary for a school population the size of Marshall County's, compared to the number of jobs in the system here.

For instance, the BEP funds one and a half nurses, while there are five on the payroll.

"It would be unpopular," Tears exclaimed.

The alternative school was another place cuts might be made, some board members said.

"We have three full-time teachers for 16 students," Michael said. "I don't think we can afford that."

Dukes said the alternative school could manage with two instead of three teachers, but he didn't know which one to cut. One of them must be a special education teacher, and the other two are for science-math and language arts. The best solution, he said, would be to get a teacher with dual certification.

Perryman saw another solution.

"Parents need to be held accountable," he said. "I don't know why the system has to pay for their mistakes. Our better students have to be top priority."

Since a number of teachers and other school system personnel were at the meeting, Michael took the opportunity to reiterate his point that voting to increase the sales tax would not mean more money for the schools.

"If you think it's going to education - it's probably going to debt service," Michael told them.

The work session then moved on to discuss job descriptions for supervisors.