WCSD ‘digging in’

Proposed cuts aimed at upper levels

When it comes to staffing in a school district, the elementary level is the easy part.

“Elementary staffing is easy,” Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart said at a budget workshop Tuesday.

For several years, the district has focused its staff reductions at the elementary level.

“We are asking our elementary teachers to teach with 29 or 30 kids to a classroom,” Stewart said.

The majority of the district’s budget goes into payroll, so, facing another multi-million dollar deficit, the board has turned its attention to the high school level. “This year the focus was on digging in on the high school level,” Stewart said.

In a list of recommended reductions, district administration listed 12 teacher positions in its “first level.”

“There’s not one thing on here that we want to do,” Stewart said.

But, the reductions “are the things we believe we can survive without harming the education of the kids,” Director of Business Services Jim Grosch said.

Nine of the 12 are secondary teachers, including two physics positions — “physics isn’t for everybody,” Stewart said. Two are middle level teachers, which are “just from decline in population,” she said, and one is a librarian who is retiring.

Of the 12 positions, seven are retirements, according to administration.

The administration also recommended that the board create three or four positions — one in speech and language, a school psychologist, a career center health services teacher, and a career counselor.

A Title I teacher is also on the reductions list, but that cut is more due to federal funding than any other consideration. “This is what we need to do to live within our means,” Stewart said. “Federal money is probably more uncertain than it has been in the past.”

Elective offerings will probably be reduced. “We have a lot of electives, and a lot of them are half-full,” Stewart said. “We are trying to pare it back so we have a system in place that we can afford to keep.”

More than 40 people attended the meeting. They were concerned that the district planned to do away with offerings of AP and honors courses at the outlying schools.

Stewart admitted that there would be changes in the offerings. “We keep trying to offer everything everywhere,” she said. “We have to come up with a different way of doing things.”

However, eliminating all honors and AP courses at Eisenhower, Sheffield, and Youngsville high schools is not proposed.

“I have heard… we are not offering any AP/honors courses in the outlying areas,” Stewart said. “That is absolutely false.”

Proposed AP and honors course offerings are generally available if a registration threshold of 12 students is met. Smaller classes can be offered if a principal has a teacher with available time.

Administrators presented a spreadsheet showing the number of students who signed up for AP and honors courses since 2014-2015 and how many completed those courses. In three school years, there were 29 instances of a course being offered because more than the minimum 12 students initially enrolled but fewer than 12 completed.

In the district’s eastern attendance area, the area with the lowest enrollment, Sheffield High School has about 40 students in each grade level. Offering three different sections of any grade-specific course there means some very small class sizes. “We’re almost double staffing a lot of the courses in the outlying areas in order to provide every opportunity,” Stewart said. “We took a little bit different approach. We asked the principals, ‘What do you want to offer given this much staff?'”

Next year, the district expects to offer advanced organic chemistry honors, advanced inorganic chemistry honors, geometry honors, and pre-calculus honors at Sheffield.

Several people spoke about the lack of English AP and honors course offerings.

“Making the choice to cut honors and AP English courses… is one of the worst decisions you could ever make,” student Sarah Gregerson said.

She described the proposal as “heart-breaking,” “ludicrous,” and “absurd.”

Sheffield teacher Sarah Connolly said she hopes her AP and honors English students will “have those opportunities at their home school. Once we lose programs, I don’t think they will come back.”

While honors English 10 and honors English 11 are on the tentative offering list for Eisenhower, AP English literature and composition is not.

Teacher Crystal Howe said she would not want to see that course leave Eisenhower and be joined with a class at Warren Area High School. “For literature and many of the other honors classes, small class sizes are optimal,” she said. “If there’s a workable class size, I ask that you continue to offer them. I have personally seen the benefit of offering them.”

Seven students have registered for that class.

She pointed the board toward a measure that, according to the administration’s list of possible budget reductions, could save teacher jobs. “Consider, rather than cutting opportunities for students, perhaps revisit the four-day school week.”

According to the list, switching to a four-day week would save the district $900,000.

Victoria Hollis said the removal of AP and honors courses from Youngsville High School would not only impact students, but the community.

The district proposed making courses available by cyber programming and by transporting students to the central attendance area. “If there were some students who wanted to elect to move to a different attendance area, that’s an option we can look at,” Stewart said.