Commentary- Staying progressive in the face of budget cuts

Monday evening, April 11, the USD 410 Board of Education and the public were able to see the proposed operational budget cuts the district must make for the 2011-12 school year.

Reductions in enrollment and Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) funding require us to cut $540,000 to our operational budgets. This is the third year in a row we have faced significant cuts to our operational budgets, totaling nearly $1.2 million.

To assist us through the process this year, we formed the District Budget Advisory Committee. This committee was representative of site council members, teachers, administration and board of education. This 16-member committee spent two long evenings analyzing our operational budget and identifying possible cuts. It was a detailed and deliberate process.

The first evening was spent reviewing the entire budget, fund by fund and line by line. Once a thorough review of the budget was complete, the committee moved into the ?Focusing Four? steps to identify budget cutting items. This process for consensus building was developed by Robert Garmston and Michael Dolcemascolo from the Center for Adaptive Schools and included: (1) brainstorming, (2) clarifying, (3) advocating and (4) canvassing.

At the end of the second night, this group identified $311,000 in possible operational cuts.

Over 75 percent of our operational budget is salaries, and it was inevitable that position cuts would need to be a part of the total required. Some of the staff reductions are the result of retirements. Others may be a casualty of reduction in force procedures clearly outlined in our master contract.

With a reduced teaching staff, changes in our building schedules were imminent. We simply could no longer afford to operate two separate schedules in our 6-12 grade centers. By aligning our schedules, we are able to maximize staffing flexibility without cutting student programs.

Reductions in non-teaching personnel will also likely affect our maintenance and custodial staff and the important work they do for our facilities.

Even with significant budget cutting, there are progressive things happening in USD 410. We will continue to offer eight courses to our middle and high school students, maximizing elective options that are proven to not only attract students to our schools, but retain them once they arrive.

We are offering more opportunities in career and technical education at the high school than ever before. State-approved career and technical classes receive additional vocational money, which helps us fund this expansion.

Additionally, we will continue to offer a robust option of college courses second to none in the area. We are also exploring dual credit scheduling options for our students seeking college credit. Examples of this include English Comp 101/English 4 and College Algebra/Advanced Math. Further expansion of college-level courses likely will occur in science and social studies.

Additionally, USD 410 will partner with the state educational service centers to provide a comprehensive virtual program for our district families beginning in fall 2011. Virtual classes will be offered from Grades 3-12 and graduates will receive a Hillsboro High School diploma. This comprehensive virtual program is your local choice for online learning and will be supported by USD 410 staff.

The virtual option will also include blending virtual courses with quality face-to-face instruction in our Career and Technical Education Pathways, providing yet another example of how USD 410 is looking to meet the educational needs of our families.

Progressive offerings are not privy to only the middle and high schools. Our elementary school is looking into expanding our pre-school program and partnering with the community to offer quality day care.

Early childhood education has been a priority in USD 410 and will continue to be with this commitment. Furthermore, we are continuing our Head Start and Parents As Teachers programs, which have provided tremendous learning and growth opportunities for our youngest children.

The elementary school is also developing a new program that will teach every elementary student a second language. There is great evidence that children who learn multiple languages read sooner and increase their overall literacy skills. Learning multiple languages also will help prepare our students for the global 21st century society into which they will enter.

Cutting public education has been linked to the analogy of cutting family budgets during tough times, and I?d agree with much of that analogy. It goes something like this, ?When times are tough, families must tighten their belts. There are some things they must do without.?

USD 410 is no different. There are many things the district has stopped doing that were important, but perhaps not essential, items. Yet, expectations for learning have never been higher. Adequate Yearly Progress achievement, ACT score performance, graduation rates, work-place skill development, virtual programming, multi-language learning and college credit attainment are evidence of continuing a progressive mindset of educational excellence for our students, families, and communities.

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