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Public Focuses on Cora Kelly Cuts

School board asks for math texts and cameras on buses.

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<hd>Proposed Cora Kelly Cuts Debated

<2b>The Gazette

<bt>While parents called for avoiding proposed cuts at the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, at the public hearing the Alexandria School Board looked to restore funding elsewhere.

On April 24 the Alexandria City Council passed a budget that provided $2.3 million less than the school board requested. In addition the state legislaturemay require the schools to fund up to an additional $320,000 towards the Virginia Retirement System. The board is trying to figure out what to cut to meet these challenges.

About a dozen people commented on cuts proposed by Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Rebecca Perry at a May 4 board meeting.

Margaret Wohler, a parent of a Cora Kelly student, was among several at the May 18 meeting who objected to proposed cuts at Cora Kelly. She said, “the [math and computer] labs are the historical heart of the school.”

Perry has recommended cutting one math teacher and one computer paraprofessional from the school. Both of them teach in the labs.

Pamela Kicak, a substitue teacher, disagreed with a statement made by Amy Carlini, Alexandria City Public Schools executive director for information and outreach. Kicak said a planned cut to a Cora Kelly math position would not eliminate a vacant position, as Carlini had stated. While the position has not had a permanent full-time staff person since fall 2005, Kicak noted that she has filled the position as a long-term substitute teacher.

“I’m sure you know that the United States is falling behind the world because people are not going into [science and math] majors,” said Cora Kelly parent Gayle Reuter. Reuter called on the board to continue Cora Kelly’s excellent programs.

ON A DIFFERENT TOPIC, Jim McClary, Parent Teacher Association president for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, called for the board to not cut funding for introducing “Everyday Math” textbooks in the fourth and fifth grades. Everyday Math is a different way of teaching math, McClary said. While teachers have been trained to teach it, if they do not start this fall the training will likely have to be repeated, he said.

After the public offered their objections, the board met to discuss the proposed cuts with Perry and other administrators.

Perry presented a new list of her proposed cuts for the school system. In addition to her May 4 cuts, Perry proposed cutting half of a psychologist position at T.C. Williams High School. She also proposed retracting an increase in spending on retiree health insurance. Together these cuts would save the schools about $101,000.

On the other hand, Perry removed a $22,000 cut to T.C. Williams writing lab stipends. She also reduced a cut in T.C. Williams staff development funding from $93,000 to $74,500. Finally, she removed a previously proposed cut of a full-time science position at Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics. With this cut Cora Kelly science faculty would have spent time time teaching at Jefferson-Houston rather than doing activities at Cora Kelley. Therefore, this change also affects Cora Kelly.

The School Board initially discussed the cuts at Cora Kelly but soon shifted focus to other areas.

“I have a problem with the idea that the cameras are dispensable,” said School Board Member Charles Wilson about Perry’s proposal to not fund the introduction of cameras to county school buses. The introduction of the cameras could prevent a lawsuit or a violent incident in the coming school year, he said.

School Board Member Kenneth Foran agreed, saying the cameras could stop bullying as well as violence on the buses.

School Board Member Arthur Schmalz called for the restoration of the Everyday Math textbooks.

School Board President Mary “Mollie” Danforth told Perry that the board seemed to be inclined to put the Everyday Math textbooks and the bus cameras back into the budget.

Schmalz suggested that Perry create a budget based on the Virginia governor’s proposal for Virginia Retirement System contributions that includes the textbooks and the cameras. The governor’s proposal would require the schools contribute less than the state legislature is currently considering. If the state ultimately requires the schools to contribute more, the board could turn to the city council to make up the difference, he said.

Perry said the board should send a letter to the council to ask them if they would cover the possible new requirement for additional retirement fund funding.

Danforth said she would work with Perry to create and send the letter.