2017-08-25 / Community News

High school strategist position cut from budget

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

In an effort to reduce the school budget by $50,000 before putting it back out to voters early next month, the board of education last week cut a position that was aimed to prepare students, teachers and staff for the switch to proficiency-based education among other school improvement efforts.

Earlier this month board of education members and building principals and other Scarborough school leaders came together to look at ways the school could make the requisite $50,000 reduction mandated

Ideas included defunding field trips and delaying classroom library purchases at the elementary schools, limiting third-party contractors at the middle and high schools, as well as delaying a storage construction project, textbook replacement and the hiring of the improvement strategist at the high school and limiting off-hours building access to the six Scarborough schools.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about that, but found it really, really challenging to quantify what the savings would be,” Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said of limiting building access.

Limiting third-party contract work at the schools was also not a possibility, she said.

“The risk of doing that would delay and postpone regular maintenance of our facilities. We all know what happens when you don’t perform regular maintenance on a school. It becomes less safe and less healthy,” she said.

Third-party contractors, she added, help the school’s maintenance staff get the schools up and running for the new school year in the short window of time between summer uses and the arrival of students.

After determining that delaying textbook replacement, classroom library purchases and the storage construction project were not feasible, Kukenberger recommended not hiring a high school improvement strategist.

She discussed delaying the position for another year with high school and central office staff and it was determined that the work envisioned for the improvement strategist could be done with educators already on staff, including the other improvement strategists in the district, lead teachers and the Scarborough High School instructional leadership team.

Doing so, she told board members, will mean slower progress toward meeting improvement goals, more responsibility for teachers and diminished quality and quantity of “job-embedded support” for teachers, but would result in the school meeting the $50,000 reduction and would empower teacher leadership and a teamed approach to improvements.

“There were no good decisions to make at this point. We made the most strategic decision and we have a plan to help us cope with the decision we had to make,” Kukenberger said.

The solution, however, is “not a sustainable model”.

“I admit I am disappointed this is the position being proposed (to be cut),” board member Jodi Shea said prior to the board approving Kukenberger’s recommendation. “The high school has a ton going on. We have the (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) folks coming (for the high school reaccreditation) and proficiency-based education. There is so much going on.”

While the decision may not directly impact students, Shea said they will feel the impacts.

“It impacts them in that the people they are with six hours a day are incredibly overworked,” she said.

Board member Donna Beeley said there are a lot of unknowns about how school districts will make the full transition to a proficiency based diploma requirements, which start for freshman this year and increased until 2025 when that year’s graduates will have to be proficient in the eight content areas.

“This is an enormous task and now we are asking our teachers to do this,” she said.

“We hope this is temporary and this year, we can all come together at the high school,” chairman Kelly Murphy said. “I believe we have the staff to do it, but I’d rather not ask them.”

The position, Beeley said, will be tough to get back in the position now that the funding has been cut.

“To me, this is a huge loss and it will really slow things down,” she said.

Beeley and other board members are hopeful this latest version of the budget will gain the approval of voters. The way the budget is right now, board member Jackie Perry said, it “is so bare bones, that we are not providing school supplies for our youngsters,” meaning parents, or volunteers through Project G.R.A.C.E. have to rise to the occasion.

Since April, the school’s budget has been reduced and changed by more than $1.3 million with cuts and refinements made at all phase levels.

“Every aspect of our district is feeling these cuts. There has been a lot of talk about spending and a bloated budget, but as Jackie said and I’ll repeat, “it’s just not true,” Shea said citing the taxes increases for the last four town budgets has been 2.2 percent (fiscal year 2015) to 2.58 percent (fiscal 2016) and 2.78 percent (fiscal year 2017).

With the $50,000 reduction, the operating budget for the 2017-2018 school year comes in at $47.1 million, or $1.27 million, a 2.77 percent increase over the 2016-2017. The net budget of $42.49 million, the amount to be raised through property taxes, rises 6.67 percent, in large part due to a 40 percent reduction in the amount of revenue Scarborough receives from the state. The overall town budget, as it stands now, is expected to increase taxes 2.9 percent.

“This is a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” Kukenberger said at the Aug. 17 school board meeting.

Voters will go to the polls Sept 5 to weigh in on the school budget for the third time. Previous spending plans were rejected by 57 percent of voters on June 13 and 51 percent of voters July 25.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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