Wednesday, February 17, 2010

notes on the MCCSC public hearing on proposed budget cuts

Last night, the Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) school board held a public hearing on the sweeping budget cuts the board plans to make across the district. I was one of hundreds in attendance; we filled Bloomington High School South's Carmichael Auditorium. I also live tweeted the event and took copious notes during the 5-hour meeting, and I want to offer up my observations.

A note on MCCSC Board members
First, I want to say that in the handful of years I spent as a local newspaper reporter, I spent a lot of time sitting in school board meetings. In those meetings, I encountered a very small minority of school administrators and officials who truly seemed not to care about the schools they represented and who acted in ways that really did seem sort of...vile. But based on my experience last night, I can say that nobody on the MCCSC school board is among that minority. These are people who care about schools and who care about the damage the proposed cuts will do to the district, the community, and the state. Before opening up the floor to public comments, each board member spoke eloquently and with deep emotion about how painful it was to have to make the kinds of decisions they were faced with. The MCCSC Superintendent, John Coopman, said that he believes things will get worse before they get better; he expects the budget crisis to worsen through 2011 and 2012. His fear, he said, is that the damage this crisis is doing to public education will be irreversible.

The audience was a smart crowd. They could simultaneously empathize with the board and hold board members' feet to the fire. The most common criticism I heard last night was about transparency: Audience members felt that decisions about the proposed cuts were made without sufficient input from MCCSC teachers, administrators, and staff. They felt that things were happening far too quickly--the proposed cuts were announced on Friday, Feb. 12, with a final vote planned for Friday, Feb. 19, which was a postponement from the original plan to vote at last night's meeting.

On the scarcity of information about the proposed cuts
Many people took issue with the paucity of information about the proposed cuts. Several members of the teachers' union, the Monroe County Education Association (MCEA), spoke with anger about only receiving a hard copy of the planned cuts for the first time last night. At the district meeting held to announce the cuts last Friday, they said, nothing was given to attendees and they had to rely on their notes and their memories in summarizing the proposed cuts.

This seems like a fairly legitimate complaint, given that I have been unable to find any primary-source documentation of the proposed cuts. The only information I've been able to find has come from secondary sources, including a recent article in the Herald-Times. I should point out, too, that while the Herald-Times article does a good job of summarizing the proposed cuts, the article is stuck behind a paywall--only subscribers to the paper can access the details. In case you're keeping count, this is yet another reason the Herald-Times should drop their ridiculous paywall.

Since I believe in the importance of spreading all available information about these proposed cuts, I have helpfully lifted generously from the Herald-Times article and carried it over the paywall by pasting it at the end of this post. Here's hoping the HT lets this information stay out in public, where it belongs.


Send your comments all the way to the top
I did my best to take note of the general theme of every comment during the public hearing, and I'll summarize my observations below. Before I do that, though, I want to add that the general theme of the evening was: Blame the state government for this travesty. Because I'm a new resident of Indiana, I don't pretend to know all the details of just how we ended up with the ceiling caving in while the floor drops out from under us, but the basic story is that a change was made in how schools receive funding, resulting in an enormous drop in revenue. Indiana's governor, Republican Mitch Daniels, despite insisting he's committed to supporting public education, has repeatedly refused to consider raising taxes to make up for the shortfall.

Complain to Mitch Daniels and State Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett. This was a common plea, from board members and audience members alike. Tell them how angry you are. Offer them your suggestions. And for godsake, let's get a referendum going to reverse this downward spiral.

I don't know how, if, or when a referendum would be initiated, but I can certainly offer up contact information for Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett. Here it is:

To send a comment to Mitch Daniels, you can fill out a form at what I can only assume is an ironically named website, "my man mitch," at http://www.mymanmitch.com/email_mitch.html; or you can complete a form on his official Indiana government page at http://www.in.gov/gov/2631.htm.

To send a comment to State Superintendent Tony Bennett, email him directly at tbennett@doe.in.gov.


Public comments
I did my best to keep accurate, thorough count of all comments, but it was a fairly hectic (and long) evening. I am absolutely open to the possibility that I've forgotten, overlooked, or misinterpreted various comments, and I hope that anyone who was in attendance at the meeting will let me know if they think I've missed something important. You can submit comments below; or, if you prefer, you can email me directly with comments, questions, or suggestions at jennamcjenna(at)gmail(dot)com.

I counted 92 comments, given over the course of about 4 1/2 hours. Speakers were limited to 3 minutes each. One final caveat: I was one of the commenters, and I spoke in support of Aurora Alternative High School, which would be closed if the proposed cuts are passed. I've been working at Aurora for nearly two years and feel a deep sense of passion and pride in the educational work of the Aurora community. That's my bias, though this bias should not detract from the strong outpouring of support for Aurora demonstrated in last night's meeting. Current Aurora students, alumni, parents, teachers, and administrators showed up in droves to stand in support of their school, and it showed in the number of pro-Aurora comments registered during this meeting.

By the end of the meeting, I was pretty much exhausted, and my notes got kind of sparse. I did tweet during board members' closing comments, though, that it seemed that the board had already made up its mind to pass the proposed cuts. I don't remember specifically what led me to this conclusion, but I hope it's inaccurate. Given the time and energy the MCCSC community devoted to last night's hearing, I believe it would not only be a travesty but a violation of the public trust for the board to simply pass the cuts as proposed.


The Breakdown
Total comments: 92
Breakdown by theme: (note that several people spoke in support of more than one item)

1. Save Aurora Alternative High School (and the Teen Learning Center): 39 comments. The support for Aurora came largely from current students and alumni, who spoke about how important the school had been for them. Over and over, we heard stories of students who would not have graduated, who would not have had the opportunities they now have, were it not for Aurora. Teachers and parents also spoke in support of Aurora, and many argued that moving the program into one of the existing public high schools would effectively destroy Aurora.

2. Save the libraries / librarians and media specialists are the heart of their schools: 28 comments. Libraries, parents, students, and community members spoke in favor of MCCSC's library programs. Several people argued that cutting librarians and media specialists would be disastrous to students, leading to a decrease in literacy rates, a drop in development of 21st-century skills, and a drop in support of teachers' work outside of the libraries.

3. Let's have a referendum: 20-24 comments. This was a difficult category to count, since even though many people didn't specifically speak up in support of a referendum, their comments and attitudes seemed to suggest they would stand behind one. The board, too, seemed to support a referendum; the problem is that the board suggested that the community would need to initiate the referendum, while the audience seemed to believe it needed to be initiated by the board.

4. We need / want / demand more input: 17 comments. These comments came largely from teachers and members of the teachers' union. As I noted above, many people argued that they had not been given ample opportunity to offer input and that they had not received enough information in a timely enough manner to be able to respond adequately to the proposed cuts. (As a side note, if anyone has a copy of the proposal, I would be thrilled to post it here or link to it on another site. Please let me know.)

5. Please don't raise class size: 16 comments. The general consensus was: Classes are big enough already; making them bigger won't solve a single thing. Many Aurora students and alumni hinted at this in their comments, pointing out that before they came to Aurora they struggled with being noticed or heard or getting the attention they needed from teachers and administrators at the larger public high schools.

6. Please don't cut the elementary strings program: 10 comments. Many former students and parents spoke with great emotion about the value of the elementary string program, which they argued was key to their academic success and growth as people. One former student said, looking at the Aurora students sitting together on one side of the auditorium: "What Aurora is to you, the strings program was to me."

7. Think about utilization rates: 6 comments. I'm still not quite clear what utilization rates are, and I hope someone can clarify for me, but people who spoke about utilization rates spoke about how space was being used in the schools. One new elementary school, according to one speaker, is operating at only 40% capacity; another speaker talked about how well his school (I'm fairly sure he said it was Bloomington South) is using space and argued that administrators should take a look at what his school was doing.

8. Save outdoor education (Honey Creek / Bradford Woods): 6 comments. Speakers in favor of these programs spoke about the value of these places to their children's or their own education, and argued for a reconsideration of the proposal to close these programs.

8. Save foreign language education: 5 comments. One speaker pointed out that Indiana University requires three years of a foreign language, and that cutting middle school foreign language programs will make it harder for students to meet that requirement. "You'd have to know in 9th grade that you want to go to college," she said. "And believe me, lots of kids don't know in 9th grade."

9. Save Family and Consumer Science: 4 comments. Several teachers spoke in favor of this program, arguing for its deep educational value for all students.

9. I volunteer to (work for free, get paid through grants, write grants, find ways to fund my position) if you give me one more year: 4 comments. It's too bad that this item is buried so far down the list, because I admire so deeply the people who made it into this category. People actually stood up and said: Give me one year to find alternate funding for my position or program, and I'll find that funding and keep my program going. I can't imagine a better deal for the MCCSC board, and I can't imagine how or why they would refuse these people.

10. Save the middle school youth outreach program: 2 comments. Two educators affiliated with this program spoke about its value. They argued that it's the only program of its kind for middle school students who have been expelled, and that as such it's an essential support program for the district.

10. Please don't close the swimming pools: 2 comments. The people who spoke in support of keeping the swimming pools open year-round volunteered to raise funds in order to make this happen. Again, if people are willing to reach into their own pockets to pay for something extra like this, I can't imagine why they would be refused.

11. Please don't cut ATS: 1 comment. ATS is an afterschool suspension program affiliated with the Teen Learning Center, but I'm including it as a separate category because the commenter who spoke in favor of this program made one important point: With the proposed increase in class size, do you think student behavior is going to improve? She argued that a program like ATS is essential given the types of cuts that are proposed.

11. Please don't slander the Project School: 1 comment. One parent whose daughter attends the Project School, a new charter school in Bloomington, spoke up against what she perceived as negative comments toward the school. Project School families are encouraged by their school's staff to support the MCCSC, she said, and she hoped to see the same kind of support from MCCSC toward Project School families.

Below, I've included the details of the recommended cuts, as described by the Herald-Times. If anyone has more information, please include in comments below or contact me directly; I would be thrilled to provide as many details about this issue as possible.



ADMINISTRATION RECOMMENDATIONS (as described by the Herald-Times)
  • Increase class-size ratio, generating approximately 45 certified staff (teaching) cuts.
  • Eliminate elementary and middle school media specialists.
  • Eliminate middle school foreign language.
  • Eliminate middle school Family and Consumer Science.
  • Eliminate one assistant, part-time athletic director at each high school.
  • Reduce high school assistant coaches (no specific numbers or areas revealed)
  • Possibly reduce extracurricular activities (brain game, spell bowl, etc.) at high schools and middle schools.
  • Eliminate six elementary assistant principal positions for 2011-12.
  • Eliminate the unfilled assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction job and the secretarial job for that post.
  • Eliminate the healthy school coordinator position.
  • Freeze all administrative salaries.
  • Reduce school board salaries.
  • Consolidate Aurora Alternative High School into an existing high school with some reduction to staff.
  • Close the Teen Learning Center.
  • Close Alternative to Suspension.
  • Close Youth Outreach.
  • Eliminate the Bradford Woods.
  • Eliminate Honey Creek School.
  • Eliminate elementary strings program.
  • Drain the high school pools out of season.
  • Eliminate Batchelor Middle School pool and fill it in.
  • Eliminate substitutes for building secretaries.
  • Eliminate summer school.

OTHER NONPERSONNEL ITEMS
  • Move NWEA (testing) costs from general fund to capital projects fund ($85,000).
  • Eliminate corporation cell phones.
  • Reduce energy costs through the Energy Education Inc. program.
  • Move maintenance materials and supplies from general fund to capital projects fund.
  • Reduce instruction materials and supplies by 10 percent.
  • Reduce administrative materials and supplies by 10 percent.
  • Reduce travel expenses by 10 percent.
  • Reduce vehicle purchases.
  • Eliminate the district’s supplemental share of band uniform purchases.
  • Reduce each school’s allocation for substitutes for teacher and staff professional development opportunities.
  • Eliminate staff development costs from the general fund that are not (state law) PL 221 required.
  • Eliminate the general fund’s portion of purchasing library books and periodicals.

9 comments:

Melissa said...

So, after all these cuts, does the board think that there will be any school left?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for at least some quantitative and factual info. Strangely enough nobody presents numbers: $$, %%, and OPTIONS, OPTIONS!
-IS

Meagan said...

Thanks for posting this. I didn't keep track of comments, but was very interested. I was at the meeting and commented toward the end (probably in your referendum/other options category). I think your comments are pretty accurate. The board mentioned that information was available 'on the website' but I have been unable to find whatever it was they were talking about.

Kevin Makice said...

Awesome compilation, Jenna.

I wanted to point everyone to the Facebook group in support of Honey Creek, where my mom-in-law is the school marm. I'm floored at the grass-roots support and testimonials for that group:

Save Honey Creek School

Sherri said...

Thanks Jenna you seem to have a good grip on what's going on. I appreciate the notes you took. My kids graduated in '08 & 09 but I have nieces and nephews following behind them at Mccsc. I want the best we can give them. I realize cuts have to be made. But things need to slow down a bit. The board still has time before the teacher contrat's come up in April.

Chuck said...

Well done, Jenna. VERY thorough. Thanks on behalf of ALL stakeholders. Hope this is in the hands of the board.

cch

dobts said...

The more I look the less it looks real. Isn't it some stupid political move, or other kind of buzz-emerging attempt? From what is available librarians may not consider their jobs in jeopardy. I think so.

Gentleman Agitator said...

Thanks for your report Jenna. I am a member of the local Bloomington Central Lions Club. We have seen the fruits of the Aurora school first hand at our annual student achievement banquet.

I only found out yesterday what was up and am appalled. I was stopped by two Aurora students on Kirkwood to sign a petition. I did not have time to tell them not to do it in pencil and to get names and addresses so the powers that be know we are Bloomington residents.

If there is something more to do past this evening to save Aurora, I look forward to hearing about it. Finally. Is it not ironic that none of the cuts come to extra-curricular sports in the district? No, they won't touch their precious football and basketball programs, but we will cut strings and a school that is the last chance for many. Yeah. Typical.

WhoeverIWantToBe said...

Why aren't the sports programs mentioned. Why is all of this academic!!! I am still so mad about all of the MCCSC stuff. Even though my kids and many of my close friend don't attend MCCSC public schools (they attend Harmony School) some are choosing to attend when they reach middle and high school. I attended until 6th grade. I loved Bradford Woods and Honey Creek School. I loved the media centers and reading. I loved that MCCSC had alternative choices for their trouble youths in non traditional settings. I have shown my support by volunteering to work at the media center for free a day or two a week. Maybe if a team of us can do this we can save that aspect. Maybe we can do that for strings and foreign languages too. I don't know but we must provide the kids with an education if the public schools and government won't. There are many things Harmony School can't supply and I have gotten these on my own such as music lessons, art lessons, and extra curricular sports which are paid for out of pocket. Looks like public school goers will be going that route as well.

Question: if sports are such a big money maker that that schools are afraid to make changes to the programs then I want to see the money's use in the school board meetings and I want to see that it is shared equally in all areas! Otherwise sports should be privatized just like paying for your own way in spell bowl band etc. Other countries DO NOT put such stock in extra curricular non academic activities! Why were sports the only area not addressed? (Coaches are the only area addressed)

Why reduce other extra curricular school activities that actually use the brain?

Why decrease actual academic programs like foreign language and music programs?

Constantly people are complaining about the lack of education in the public school system. Here we are decreasing academic programing... To what purpose?

 

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