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Votes

School Board Settles on Cuts

Final budget to be approved June 15.

The Cora Kelley School for Math, Science and Technology will loose two teaching positions in the aftermath of a recent Alexandria School Board vote.

Before the board discussed spending cuts on June 1, several parents of Cora Kelley students spoke against the proposed cuts to the school.

"Cutting the staff at Cora Kelly directly harms the Cora Kelly students," said one of these parents, Tania Blagrove. "Cutting the staff at Cora Kelly erodes our progress on fighting racism. Cutting the staff at Cora Kelly unfairly and directly affects children when other cuts are available."

The ratio of teachers and paraprofessionals to students at Cora Kelley is 7.9, higher than the overall average for Alexandria City Public Schools of 7.7, Blagrove said she had found out from Alexandria Superintendent Rebecca Perry. "This didn't sound to me like the School Board and the central office were putting all the facts out in the open before making this decision," Blagrove said.

After the meeting Amy Carlini, Alexandria City Public Schools spokeswoman, said comparing Cora Kelly's ratio to other schools was misleading. Other schools may have a smaller ratio because they have more special education students, who are taught in smaller classes, she said. Also, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy has small student-teacher ratios as part of its mission, she said.

There are other things in the school system's budget that would be better to cut, said parent Allen Flanigan.

Cutting the positions would lead to less individualized instruction and more worksheets, said Scott Lockett, president of the school's Parent Teacher Association.

On April 24 the Alexandria City Council approved funding the city school system at a level $2.3 million below the board had requested.

Since then the board has been considering how to meet this shortfall.

At the June 1 Alexandria School Board meeting the administration's and board's discussion initially focused on the Cora Kelly cuts. A few years ago Cora Kelly had 650 students, Perry said. It now has 470 students, she said.

"What we're talking about today is a catch-up reduction," said School Board member Sally Ann Baynard.

The remaining math lab teacher at Cora Kelly would have one hour and five minutes of planning time each day, more than any other elementary school teacher, said Alexandria City Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Cathy David.

The board soon turned to discussing whether to cut $2.3 million or to also cut an additional $315,000 to cover possible state government mandates

Mayor William Euille had sent a letter to the board on May 31 that was ambiguous on the $315,000, said School Board member Mark Wilcoff. The letter was unclear as to whether the city council would reimburse the board the $315,000 if the board needed to pony it up to cover retirement or retirement health care costs, Wilcoff said.

"Let's see how this General Assembly budget situation plays out over the next few weeks before formally addressing this budget funding issue with Council" Euille wrote. The General Assembly as of press time had not passed a budget leaving the issue unanswered.

Wilcoff motioned for the board to adopt Perry's proposed "Tier I" cuts, which would cover the $2.3 million shortfall but not the potential additional $315,000.

School Board member Arthur Schmalz said the board should just do the Tier I cuts now. If state government hits the school system later with the $315,000 spending mandate, "we cross that bridge when we come to it," Schmalz said

Baynard agreed. Referring to the Cinderella folk tale, "to adopt a Tier II cut and still expect the council to pick up the slack is like glass slippers," she said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the Tier I cuts.

The Tier I cuts consist of:

o $1.7 million that had been allotted to reduced employee health insurance contributions. With this cut, employee health insurance contributions will remain steady in the coming fiscal year.

o $93,000 as part of a process of shifting Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics from an arts focus curriculum to an arts integration curriculum. The system will cut a full-time drama teaching position, a full-time dance teaching position and a half-time arts focus staff position. It will add a full-time arts integration position to the school.

o $249,000 for three teacher positions and one paraprofessional position. This cut will eliminate one math lab teacher and one math lab paraprofessional at Cora Kelly. It will also cut a physical education teacher and an English as a Second Language teacher at T.C. Williams High School.

o $20,000 for Central Office space planning. The school's facilities staff could do this work, Perry has said.

o $9,000 for line markings on athletic fields. City government will take care of this, Perry said.

o $72,000 for summer school. A federal 21st Century Grant will replace this.

o $55,000 for after-school tutoring at Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics. The school system is confident it can get federal Title I funding to cover this, Jay Grimes, assistant superintendent for state and federal programs, has said.

o $39,000 for a half-time psychologist position at T.C. Williams High School.

o $63,000 that would have been spent on retiree health insurance.

While the board approved the cuts at the June 1 meeting it has not yet officially approved a budget. This will occur on June 15, Carlini said. The budget will run from July 1 of this year to June 30 of 2007. The school system needs to adopt a budget by June 30.

At some future point the state government may go ahead with mandating the school system increase funding for retirement or retiree health care, Carlini said after the meeting. If this happens the school system would then go to the city council with a supplemental budget request, Carlini said.