York parents have asked the school board protect art, media and in-school suspension programs at elementary schools from budget cuts across the district.
The $1.9 million in cuts, which include eliminating 22 positions, “will dismantle these essential programs,” organizer Alicia Bolin told York school board members in a May 14 meeting. “Our district is moving backwards and eliminating teachers. Whether it’s through attrition or budget cuts, this is unacceptable.”
Bolin, who was accompanied by about 30 parents with children dressed in bright red, asked board members to meet with parents “and listen to alternatives.”
Preston Ramsey, a fourth-grader at York’s Hunter Street Elementary, told the board he started a petition by students to save the school’s art and music program.
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“I hope you will keep the art and music full time so others, including my brother, have the same experience I did at Hunter Street,” said Preston.
Due to the cuts approved by the board in February, Hunter Street and Jefferson elementary schools would share art and music teachers next year instead of each school having its own. The sharing of art and music teachers is already done at Cotton Belt and H.C. Johnson elementary schools.
After hearing the comments, Chairwoman Shirley Harris told Bolin the school board “will take it into consideration. We certainly appreciate your input and we are glad you are here.”
After the meeting, Harris said she believes the board has been responsive to requests for information from parents. “I feel they have enough information as to why we had to do what we had to do,” she said.
She said she spoke with Bolin for about an hour several weeks ago to explain the need for the cuts, and that Superintendent Vernon Prosser responded to a Freedom of Information request.
“I’m sorry they don’t feel like it’s enough,” Harris said, referring to complaints voiced by some of the parents that the school board and administration have not been responsive. “We can’t tell them any more than we know right now. I hate the fact that they don’t think that is enough.”
The York school board in February approved a plan to cut 22 positions and reduce the number of work days for about 20 other administrators and staff to cut about $1.9 million in costs for the coming school year.
The cuts at elementary schools include the two art and music teaching positions, five in-school suspension assistants, five media assistants and two instructional coaches.
Cuts at the middle and high school level include an instructional coach, two teacher assistants, a high school administrator, guidance counselor, media specialist and an ROTC position. Part-time French and masonry teaching positions also would be eliminated.
Bolin told the school board that elimination of elementary school media assistants will force the library to go to a fixed schedule. She said that reading and writing test scores improve with a fully staffed library and with the integration of art.
In addition, she said the elementary school in-school suspension program is important to remove disruptive children from the classroom.
Bolin questioned why York is cutting jobs when some other school districts are adding them.
Prosser said the district has used money from a reserve fund to balance its budget for about three years. Many school districts eliminated jobs when the economy tanked several years ago, but Prosser hoped the economy would improve and the cuts could be avoided. For the current school year, the district used about $1.5 million in reserves.
He said the $6.2 million reserve fund — down from $9.2 million five years ago — now amounts to about 17 percent of general fund expenditures. He said good financial management calls for school districts to keep a reserve that’s about 20 percent of its general fund.
School board member Melissa Ramsey said she appreciates that parents and students want to be engaged in the process. “We are having to make some tough financial choices we don’t want to make,” she said.
Ramsey also noted that elementary art and music programs are not being eliminated. “The kids are still getting it,” she said. “The teachers will have to do it in a different manner.”
Board member Mike Smith said after the meeting that he also has talked to some parents who are upset about the cuts. He said the board has “looked at all the options.”
The board is schedule to have a budget work session 6:30 p.m. May 28 and a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. June 11, followed by a final vote on the budget at 7 p.m. that day.