SPS Budget Forum Preview

Stillwater parents, students and staff will have the opportunity to ask specific questions concerning the Stillwater Public Schools budget Tuesday.

The Stillwater League of Women Voters will host a public forum from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Stillwater Community Center at 315 W. Eighth Ave.

The district agreed to participate in the forum after receiving requests from some parents to address further questions about the state of the district’s budget.

“There’s a bunch of parents and people from the community who were concerned about some of the budget cuts,” said parent Marty High. “We got together as a group to talk about what we could do to help the school district, and out of those group discussions the idea came out about having a forum.”

High and his wife were two of the parents from the group who suggested the forum idea to Superintendent Ann Caine.

“I thought that was a great idea because I answer those questions all the time,” Caine said. “We have those frequently asked questions on our website, but I know that sometimes people appreciate face-to-face. I hope this helps clarify for people how the process worked, how our committee came up with the list and just talk about school funding.”

Concerns arose about the district’s budget in March when administration announced that SPS would cut $1.9 million from its operating budget for the 2014-2015 school year.

“There’s a lot of information out there about how things are done,” High said. “We thought the first thing to do is to understand better where the school district is coming from and what the situation is.”

Some changes have been made to the administration’s original budgeting plan since it was proposed.

The district decided to keep the block schedule at Stillwater High School after compromising on a recommendation from high school teachers. Six certified teaching positions would still be eliminated from the school.

“We’re not laying anybody off,” Caine said. “We’re placing them [teachers] throughout the district. We’re just eliminating positions.”

The original proposal estimated a savings of $300,000 to the district by removing the block schedule.

The district also decided to renew its contract with the city of Stillwater to finance its school resource officer (SRO) program after questions rose about student safety should the program have been terminated.

Despite these changes, one parent said she is still concerned about the future of the SRO program.

“Dr. Caine in her email to all of the parents has made it very known that this is only a one-year contract,” said Mitsi Andrews. “I anticipate that we’re going to turn around in eight to 10 months and have to go through this all again.”

Andrews said many of her submitted questions are about budget issues and the need for greater transparency and accountability from administration.

“I don’t know how in detail she [Caine] is going to get,” Andrews said. “From what I understand she’s not been given any of these questions ahead of time. I’m not even really sure how much of the information we’re actually going to get on Tuesday.”

Caine said she was given the option to see the questions before the forum but declined.

“I answer questions all the time when I’m out speaking to civic groups or to our school faculty meetings,” Caine said. “I know the league will be reading all of them to make sure that we’re not being repetitive. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out.”

Another parent said she hopes her question is answered about why the district did not prepare for budget cuts when it knew they were coming.

“We’re going to ask why they didn’t take that into account and get ready for it each year instead of saving it all up,” said Shelley Mitchell. “Why have they decided to keep adding positions at the administration building while cutting teachers’ spots? That directly affects the kids.”

Andrews said she thinks the administration agreed to do the forum because it realized it was exhausting its efforts when only speaking individually with parents.

“This is beyond a situation that it’s OK just to meet one-on-one with parents,” Andrews said. “This is something that is affecting the entire district. They’re wasting a lot of time and not getting out information as a whole.”

Those interested in asking questions can anonymously submit them at the forum or email them to spsforumlwv@gmail.com.

Stillwater Public Schools announced earlier this year it would need to cut $1.9 million from its budget for the following school year due to decreases in state funding. SPS has seen increased enrollment districtwide the past few years. Data collected from the SPS 2013-2014 operating budget.
Stillwater Public Schools announced earlier this year it would need to cut $1.9 million from its budget for the following school year due to decreases in state funding. SPS has seen increased enrollment districtwide the past few years. Data collected from the SPS 2013-2014 operating budget.

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Stillwater High School to keep block schedule

A comparison of the budget cut proposals for the 2014-2015 school year at Stillwater High School. Designed by Meagan Kascsak

Stillwater High School students will not have to switch their schedules next school year after an administrative decision was made to keep the school’s traditional block schedule.

The decision was made after a budget committee of Stillwater Public Schools administrators and school principals met Tuesday to discuss the proposed staffing cuts received from high school teachers on March 28. The teachers were given the opportunity to submit a proposal to administrators on how to reduce the school’s expenditures by $300,000 for the 2014-2015 school year.

Superintendent Ann Caine, a member of the budget committee that made the decision, said she agreed with the choice to keep the block schedule.

“The high school has been using the block schedule since the mid ’90s,” Caine said. “They are very connected and very passionate about it and it is working for them.”

The high school teachers proposed a reduction in four staff positions for a savings of $200,000, a textbook savings of $100,000 should the high school remain on its block schedule, the transfer of a vice principal to Stillwater Junior High School for a savings of $70,000 and a $30,000 reduction for athletics and activities. The proposal amounted to an overall reduction of $400,000.

The proposal noted that additional textbooks could be bought through a bond fund to keep the block schedule in place. It also claimed that textbook costs would rise 50 percent each year should the high school switch to a traditional schedule.

The possibility of changing the block schedule came into question in early March when administrators notified parents that the high school would need to reduce six certified teaching positions at the campus to save $300,000 for the upcoming school year. The high school would also switch to a traditional schedule of three days with seven periods and two days with block scheduling.

The current block schedule has four 90-minute periods each day. It allows for students to complete courses such as English and mathematics in the fall and history and science courses in the spring along with other electives.

An outpour of questions and concerns about the reduction of teachers from parents and students prompted administrators to pull the modified block schedule vote from the March 24 special school board meeting to give the high school teachers time to propose an alternative plan.

Director of Human Resources Kellee Brown, another member of the budget committee, said the final decision regarding staffing at the high school next year would be a version of the teachers’ suggestions.

“We felt that the information they provided gave us a really good starting point to get to that $300,000,” Brown said.

Brown said six positions would still have to be eliminated, but the district might be able to retain those employees in other teaching positions.

“A lot of it is dependent upon who [teachers] leaves and looking at pre-enrollment numbers,” Brown said. “We’ll look at student-to-teacher ratio and see if we have areas that we could eliminate positions or move teachers possibly to the junior high or middle school where there’s an opening.”

Caine was also in agreement.

“Not every option on the list is a viable cut,” Caine said. “ We’re going to wait until after pre-enrollment to make the next decision.”

Enrollment for pre-kindergarten began on March 31 and enrollment for the other schools will begin April 3. Brown said the district would have a better picture on the demographic numbers for next year’s classes in the coming weeks.

One parent said she was pleased with the decision to keep the current schedule in place.

“I think it was clear that students and the parents felt strongly about trying to keep the block schedule if we can,” Kandi Speer, a mother of an 11th and ninth grader, said. “I’m pleased that they looked at that and saw that it was something that they could accept and keep the block.”

Speer spoke in opposition to changing the block schedule at the special school board meeting on March 24. She said her main concern was the limited opportunity for students such as her daughters to take Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment courses with a traditional schedule.

Speer said her older daughter, who will be a senior next year, was also happy about the decision.

“She’s elated, she’s very excited, and they all are,” Speer said. “It takes the pressure off. It’s like, ‘Good, we can get back to learning.’”

With the block schedule, Speer said her daughter would be able to keep her plan to take AP French level five in the fall and possibly a concurrent college French course in the spring. She said she is also glad other students will still have these opportunities down the road.

“My youngest is a freshman and she’s excited to be able to have the benefits that the block schedule brings,” Speer said.

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