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State schools checklist: Bigger classes, lower pay, privatized bus service . . .

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By VICKI URBANIK

A “Citizens Checklist” released last week by the Indiana Department of Education suggests that schools could deal with state funding cuts in such ways as increasing class sizes, cutting pay, selling surplus buildings, and outsourcing bus drivers and janitorial staff.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer this morning gave a mixed reaction to the “Citizens Checklist” released by the state, which includes 22 suggestions for schools now dealing with funding cuts.

Baer said he appreciates the state putting out suggestions, but said the suggestions are just that -- guidelines that might not apply to every school corporation given the uniqueness of schools.

“It’s not a template for every school,” he said.

The Duneland Schools are projected to lost $1.3 million in state tuition support this year as a result of the nearly $300 million in statewide funding cuts announced by Gov. Mitch Daniels. Duneland already began the year knowing that its 2010 budget as approved was up to $4 million too high.

Exactly how Duneland will deal with the funding loss remains to be seen.

Baer said no one should expect one big announcement delineating specific cuts. Instead, he said, dealing with the funding loss will involve a process that could be carried out in components over a number of weeks, if not months.

The Duneland School Board has called a special meeting on Jan. 26 to further discuss the budget situation. Baer said that if there are adjustments in administrative contracts, the school board must act on the changes by Feb. 1 under the contract language.

But Baer could not say if the board will make any such administrative changes at that meeting or if the school board discussion will continue to be of the general nature, as it has been since the news of the budget cuts first hit.

“We’re not going to be in a rush (to make the budget changes). We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” he said.

He also said Duenland has some time to make specific cuts. If any teachers are to be let go, for example, the school board does not need to act on the “reductions in force” until April.

Baer said if Duneland had to deal just with the previously projected budget shortfall of up to $4 million, it may have been able to make the budget adjustments without having much of a direct impact on programming. But the governor’s latest announcement that schools will have to cut nearly $300 million refers to actual state dollars that Duneland expected to get in its monthly state payments.

The state’s “checklist” contains suggestions that are both specific and general in nature.

Among the specific suggestions: “See or lease surplus properties,” “Eliminate payment from the general fund to professional organizations and reduce travel and conference expenses,” and “freeze, reduce or roll back the present salary and benefits of all employees.”

Among the suggestions that are more general: “Undertake a district or school analysis of where funds are spent and whether they align to student learning,” “investigate consolidation of school services both internally and externally” and “increase class size numbers that reduce teaching staff in classes where educational outcomes will not be negatively impacted.”

Baer said that he has only eyeballed the checklist as of this morning, and that he and other school officials will take a closer look at the suggestions. But he also said that some of the suggestions -- such as those that encourage schools to cut costs without cutting educational quality -- have been an ongoing issue.

But he also didn’t rule out any of the suggestions. For example, he said Duneland will look at expanding the Rainy Day Fund, as the checklist suggests, though he added that the fund has a finite amount of money. He also said school officials will consider the suggestion to reduce benefits, but noted that those benefits are topics that are negotiated at the bargaining table with teachers.

A media release issued by the Department of Education says that the checklist “outlines a series of adjustments that all stakeholders in K-12 education should consider, discuss and implement in order to avoid or minimize any reduction in teaching staff that affects classroom instruction and learning.”

“By distributing the Citizens’ Checklist throughout the local community, it is the intent of the State Board and Department of Education to stimulate meaningful and transparent dialogue that will be held in an open forum so that positive action can be taken and obstructions to solutions can be identified and addressed. Conducting open forums will allow local communities to find adjustments that do not affect student learning,” the statement said.

 

 

Posted 1/18/2010

 

 

 

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