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Letter: Why these Staff Cuts?

To the Editor:

On Jan. 19 Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman unveiled what he deemed a "moral document" before the Alexandria School Board. This carefully crafted wording was used to present what the less theatrical would call the ACPS FY2013 Budget. Dedicated to the "amazing students who attend all of our schools," this budget was rife with various changes in district-wide investments, reallocation of department funds, and restructuring of programs. So just what did this dedication bestow upon the students of our city? A few of the noteworthy budget highlights glossed over by Mr. Sherman include:

  • Elimination of staff positions at 54 percent of the elementary schools.
  • Elimination of 13 Special Education staff positions at Mount Vernon Elementary School.
  • Elimination of 17 staff positions at the middle schools and high school.
  • Elimination of seven Special Education staff positions at T.C. Williams.
  • Elimination of an Early Childhood Education position.
  • No additional increase in English Language Learners (ELL) teachers.
  • Elimination of summer school programs. (Even though research shows students from lower income homes suffer significant learning loss over the summer).
  • 10 percent reduction in funding for extended learning opportunities.
  • Reduction in stipends for coaches, tutors, and organizers of school clubs/activities.
  • Elimination of five curriculum facilitators (even though ACPS just released its new curriculum, which is having to change throughout the school year to address flaws)
  • Elimination of a visiting science teacher position (even though science is one of the weaker subject areas district-wide).
  • Elimination of four physical therapy and occupational therapy positions.
  • Elimination of two technology integration teachers.
  • Elimination of an instructional coach who worked to meet student needs for language acquisition, special education, English language learners, cultural competency, and student engagement.
  • 50 percent cut in all exemplary program funding (why continue these programs if they are not fully funded and why implement the programs in the first place? Has the effectiveness of these programs been evaluated, how, and what are the results? How much have the programs cost the district thus far?)
  • Elimination of the district level social work coordinator.

All of these changes with the potential to gravely impact student achievement and learning coming from the same superintendent who said: "Our reality is that we have achievement differences among our students where there should be none. We know that our African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Special Education and English Language Learners (ELL) students have a disproportion of lower test scores, higher rates of drop outs, greater discipline referrals, less participation in TAG, Honors, and AP programs. As we recommend priorities to the School Board for this year, there is no doubt in my mind that eliminating academic achievement differences among race, income, disability and language subgroups must be the highest priority." (Alexandria Gazette Packet Oct. 20, 2011)

Mr. Sherman, just how are we to attempt to eliminate, or even reduce, those differences when you seek to take away the very staff and programs that these students depend upon to meet their educational needs?

The money saved from the aforementioned cuts is spent in many places throughout Mr. Sherman’s budget. Some areas where funding increases within ACPS are:

  • Pay increase of $1,189 to raise the salary of the superintendent to $244,080 (Virginia’s Governor earns $175,000)
  • $39,017 increase in benefits for the Office of the Superintendent
  • $20,800 budgeted for "other charges" for the Office of the Superintendent
  • $10,748 salary increase for the deputy superintendent
  • $46,507 for a "special assistant" to the deputy superintendent
  • $103,695 salary increase between four human resources administrators
  • Funding for the Success For All reading program to be used throughout the district. Current ACPS Chief Academic Officer Gwen Carol Holmes was the chief operating officer for the Success for All Foundation before coming to ACPS.

The notion that this budget has some moral bearing is ridiculous. What this budget has are some very troubling aspects which should be questioned by the community and be immediately addressed by the School Board. If we are to meet the needs of a growing student population; a population with special education students, English language learners, and students who are economically disadvantaged, we must do so with the proper resources and support in place. This budget effectively removes the support and resources from the very groups the superintendent purports to be so concerned about within our schools. This utter lack of support and resources is something we do not want to bestow upon our City’s children.

Edmund Lewis

Alexandria