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District addresses budget shortfall
ARLINGTON — Concerns about class size seem to be at the top of the list for parents, teachers and leadership of the Arlington School District, as the district grapples with a $3 million - $5 million shortfall in next year’s budget.
The board of directors held a public forum Tuesday, April 14, the day after the Arlington Education Association (the teacher’s union), met the night before. The forum provided an opportunity for each person present to meet one-on-one with members of the school board. Rather than have everyone stand up and speak to the whole group, they all waited in line patiently to speak to a director, with administrative staff taking notes.
“Teachers are willing to take cuts in pay,” said Cathy Clarksmith, an English teacher at Post Middle School.
“We just don’t want classes with 30 or 40 students,” she said, voicing the most frequently expressed concern among most everyone present.
“We’d rather see programs cut than teachers,” said Deb Hubenthal, a teacher at Pioneer Elementary School who is secretary for the AEA.
“We are advocating a pay to play program for sports and extracurricular activities,” Clarksmith said.
A list of programs from the AEA meeting the night before, the “50/50 Teacher/Parent Partnership” showed dollar amounts that could be saved through various school district programs.
According to that list, $292,369 could be saved from the high school sports program and more than $200,000 could be saved by cutting the Gifted and Running Start programs. The list included $102,000 for the district’s public relations position, and $140,000 in community services as well as $115,000 for a copy machines contract.
From ROTC to Trafton and Weston High schools, the list had check boxes for participants to check the program they would recommend cutting, with a note at the bottom: “Remember, every program you choose to keep may cost the district one more teacher, affecting class sizes.”
A parent of a special needs student, Kim Troia hopes they will keep the smallest possible ratio between students and teachers.
“We moved here for this program,” Troia said. “It met our needs better than Mukilteo. We hate to see it cut.”
She and her friend, Theresa Hinricksen doubted whether their comments would make any difference.
“Caroline [Ericksen, one of five ASD directors], said they do value our opinions, so it’s worth a try,” Hinricksen said.
A parent of a student in a gifted program, Kim Meno said she trusts the board to make the right decisions.
“I’d rather see them cut the gifted program completely than throw an inadequate amount of money at it,” Meno said.
Leaders of the ROTC program argued the dollar amount listed for their program. Chris Jones, a community member who helped develop the program, said that he did not agree with the amount the teachers’ union said could be saved.
“I don’t know where they got $108,000, but it costs nowhere near that,” Jones said. Mike Blue, the head of the two-teacher program, pointed out that the Air Force pays for a bulk of the program.
“If they do adopt a pay to play program, there should be scholarships for students who can’t afford to pay,” said parent Bill Kmet.
“We’d like to see them take a little bit off the top of every program,” Robin Kmet said.
The district’s spokesperson, Misti Gilman, who’s hours have already been cut from full- to half-time, reported that more than 280 staff and community members attended the School Board Forum Tuesday night.
“We also have had more than 800 responses to the online survey,” she said. “We appreciate all the input.
Superintendent Kris McDuffy’s statement is guiding the discussion: “Our number one priority is to protect the classroom.”
Out of the $48 million ASD budget, 85 percent is for people.
The process for completing next year’s budget continues at the board’s retreat this Friday, April 24. Certified staff (educators) will submit recommendations by May 4 and classified staff (non-educators, i.e. office staff, bus drivers, etc.) recommendations are due May 15. The board and administration will continue discussions and budget development through July for an August budget adoption.
Short weeks and extended days are among the creative solutions currently on the table.
“I am glad I am not a member of the board,” Mike Blue said. “There will be some very unhappy people.”
“I am sure there will be pain everywhere. I just hope the cuts will be fair,” Kmet said.
Statement from the district on admin reductions
• Administrative positions will be reduced at a higher percentage than any other employee group.
• Public Information Coordinator Position has already been reduced from full to half time.
• Brett Sarver’s additional duties as Director of the Byrnes Performing Arts Center do not result in any additional pay. This is not an additional administrative position. It is an addition to his current assignment as CTE Director.
On class size
The district’s priority remains protecting resources in the classroom to the greatest extent possible. Average class size shall be maintained within the following guidelines:
• 27 students grades K-4.
• 29 students grades 5-6.
• 31 students grades 7-8.
• 32 students grades 9-12.