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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