Education Committee Begins Analyzing Staffing Cuts
Centennial teachers packed the meeting room as presentations were made on discontinuing some high school courses and switching the middle schools to junior highs.
Educators from all of Centennial's elementary, middle and high schools filled a standing room only meeting of the district's education committee Wednesday night to stake an early claim in the months-long process of finding cuts to overcome a $4 million deficit in the 2012-2013 budget.
District administrators and teachers seemed to come to a mutual understanding that positions have to be removed for the sake of the budget, and that any cuts should have the least possible negative impact on the students.
"We have to make excruciating choices in the next couple months," said Superintendant Dr. Jenny Cressman. "Nobody on this board or in this administration wants to lose a single teacher, but that is not an economic reality. We need to create more efficiencies in staffing."
Several teachers requested that the administration go back to the budget and look for more cuts and more revenue sources, prompting director Mark Miller to voice his palpable anger at the rest of the school board's refusal to aggressively pursue alternative funding.
His response was quickly rebuked by committee chair Jane Schrader-Lynch, who said that Miller's display violated the mission of the education committee, which is devoted to providing education programming for the children and nothing else.
After the meeting, Miller promised that he will have plenty more to say at Tuesday's school board meeting.
"We have not done everything we can do," said Miller.
Nevertheless, the staffing reduction process began Wednesday night with Superintendant of Education Joyce Mundy's presentation of suggested cuts to courses offered at William Tennent High School. The menu included:
- The elimination of a technology education program because of declining student interest and a redundancy of offerings from the Middle Bucks Institute of Technology. The course would continue to be taught at the sixth grade level.
- The elimination of computer application courses, instead adding computer literacy classes to the elementary curriculum. The change was spurred by the level of ability already displayed by most of the high school students.
- The elimination of the graduation project course. Instead of having classes solely dedicated to seniors completing their mandatory graduation projects, the course requirements will be embedded in their regular schedule of classes.
- The elimination of PSSA math and reading courses. The administration feels students have made large enough gains in their PSSA scores to justify shedding the courses and offering online support for students who need help passing the twelfth grade retests.
- The elimination of French and German language courses. Low enrollment prompted the administration to place these two Romance languages on the chopping block. Instead, they will be offered through online courses, along with more languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic. Spanish will still receive classroom instruction.
Miller requested more enrollment data and information on the online courses from Mundy, prompting a tabling of the issue until Monday's education committee meeting. If the proposal passes up to the school board unscathed, it would translate into the loss of 8.5 high school teaching positions (three elementary positions would be created to teach the computer application courses).
The topic then turned to middle schools. Mundy presented an informational slideshow that illustrated the basic differences between the middle school model versus the junior high school structure.
Once the ad hoc committee on class size convenes after making its final presentation and recommendations to the education committe on Monday, Jan. 23, Mundy and Dr. Cressman hopes another special committee can be formed to explore switching Klinger and Log College to junior high schools.
Judging by the reaction of the room to Mundy's presentation, the switch will be met with heavy resistance. As explained by the slideshow, the middle school model of multi-department teams dedicated to each grade would transition to subject-specific departments. This model would allow for less staffing requirements since subject teachers can lead classrooms across multiple grades.
The idea of losing the team-oriented structure alarmed many of the middle school teachers present at Wednesday night's meeting, as several representatives brought up issues of increased class sizes, less time for teacher prep time and diminished opportunities to assist students outside the classroom.
Dr. Cressman stressed that Mundy's presentation was purely informational and contained no actionable recommendations. She suggested that many of the teachers make their concerns known at any potential meetings on the subject.