M-W officials say proposed 2011-12 $149 million budget won't affect academics

| 22 Feb 2012 | 05:27

Cuts will cause changes in sports, some class sizes, clubs and bus routes, By Nancy Kriz CENTRAL VALLEY - Monroe-Woodbury School District officials expressed confidence this week that despite the cuts made as part of the development of its proposed $149 million budget, there will be a negligible impact on academic programs. “In essence, this is the same (academic) program for this upcoming year as it is this year,” said District Superintendent Edward Mehrhof. “But this year, we will be down six or seven sections (of students) on the elementary level. It will be business as usual for the students. There is no significant curriculum or instructional changes.” Mehrhof said the district’s student population has declined about 100 students, which he based on the “big bubble of growth” of recent years. “That 'bubble’ is graduating,” he said. The decline, combined with 16 teacher retirements, six teacher resignations, 10 full-time teaching assistant retirements and one part-time resignation only requires the district to replace four teachers, Mehrhof said. That reduction in staff also keeps layoffs from happening. But the proposed budget also means changes in how some high school classes are scheduled; slightly larger classes at Central Valley Elementary School; the elimination of high school freshman sports and all before-school and after-school intramural programs district wide; elimination of all elementary level class trips; consolidation or elimination of some high school clubs; consolidation of select bus routes; and more prudent use of supplies. Mehrhof stressed all of these proposed changes were made after significant analysis of what would cause the least impact and affect as few students as possible. His sentiment was echoed by Elsie Rodriguez, the district’s director of secondary education who is also Middle School principal. “How do we, in difficult times, how do we modify what we offer and be able to get similar-like results?” she said. “We worked very hard to make decisions that make sense. We are making every effort to make sure no child’s education is compromised. We worked very diligently to make sure that doesn’t happen. And, it hasn’t happened.” What follows is a breakdown of what will change under the proposed 2011-12 spending plan. Elementary level: Goodbye to class trips Field trips for kindergarten to fifth-grade classes will be eliminated in the new school year. “We know that a photo of a bear isn’t a substitute for seeing a real bear at the Bear Mountain Zoo, but we do look to bring in the outside world into the schools as much as possible,” said Dr. Charlene Kelemen, principal of Sapphire Elementary and the district’s director of elementary education. “And there are many virtual field trips that are free to us..” Elementary level: Class sizes A declining enrollment on the elementary level will see a decrease of about 100 students district wide, resulting in seven less class sections, equating to seven teachers, Kelemen said. Concurrently, she said, that decline is actually helped by teacher retirements and resignations. “That is truly a contributing factor,” she said, because the district will not have to address the issue of what to do with those teachers. “Class sections are driven by enrollment.” For example, at Sapphire Elementary this year, there are eight sections of kindergarten class and nine first-grade classes. Next year, there will be eight of each. “That might result in one or two more children in each first-grade class,” Kelemen said, cautioning that right now it’s too premature to actually know those numbers until classes are in place. But changes will definitely be seen at Central Valley Elementary, which is seeing the largest decline in students, said Kelemen. That school already has lower than usual class sizes due to what Kelemen said was a “wave of low enrollment.” At that school, classes will increase by two to three students in all sections, but will still be within the accepted norm for class sizes and sizes seen at its sister schools, North Main and Pine Tree. “I’ve been in this district for 35 years and I’ve seen little dips and surges in enrollment,” Kelemen said. “In this instance, in one particular school, we’ve seen a drop.” Additionally, Pine Tree will see an increase in one to two students in a grade level yet to be determined. Class size changes for the 2011-2012 school year Smith Clove, North Main: None Pine Tree: Anticipated: One to two additional students in a grade level yet to be determined Sapphire: Anticipated: One to two additional students in the eight sections of first-grade Central Valley: Planned: Two to three additional students in all class sections Elementary level: Supplies Budget preparation requires everyone to take a close look at supplies and Kelemen said staff gave close attention to general supplies and text needs. As an example, she noted how first-graders use a work text called “Words I Use When I Write,” which essentially becomes a year-long, fluid work journal of words they learn and incorporate into their writing development skills. Currently, first and second-graders use this work text, receiving a new text in the second-grade. At the end of this school year, that first-grade work text will be held and carried forward to their new second-grade schools, where they will continue to use the same work text instead of buying new ones. “Everybody pinched pennies,” said Kelemen. “But at the same time, we made sure the children and parents see the exact same level of instruction (as this year), and I believe we have achieved that.” The Expand Program and elementary enrichment Expand, the district’s program for gifted/talented students, will see no changes on the elementary level, but will have a modification on the middle school level and its elimination on the high school level. This year, about 400 students have been selected for inclusion, which is offered in the third to 12th grade level, said Rodriguez, the district’s director of secondary education and Middle School principal. On the elementary level, while Expand remains unchanged, past practices have been for some enrichment services to be provided by Expand teachers, though the primary responsibility always lies with the classroom teacher, she said. In the next school year, the provision of some enrichment services will be based on the availability of those teachers and in the classroom setting. That might change slightly if at all, she said, due to the lower enrollment on the elementary level. In the Middle School, Expand will now only be offered during the instructional day by Expand teachers . The modification is that the after school program is eliminated, she said. Rodriguez also noted that most middle school Expand students are already taking enriched/advanced courses, with Biology, Earth Science and Algebra students taking Regents exams. But at the high school, the Expand program - an after-school only program - will be eliminated next year. “We looked to see the other ways we are serving these students,” said Rodriguez. “The thinking is that the high school students have many, many other options available to them in addition to Expand. There are honors courses, advanced placement courses, programs like Odyssey of the Mind, and other enrichment programs. Cutting after school Expand will have the least impact on these students, most of whom are already in programs and classes and coursework like this.” This elimination of the high school program was not an easy decision, she said. “We know the value of Expand to Monroe-Woodbury,” added Rodriguez. “We do not want to get rid of Expand. Elementary and middle school students will be able to take it during the course of the day. But it’s a luxury after school.” Expand students affected: Elementary level: None, including those to be invited to join next year Middle School: 25 High school: Approximately 80 Total Expand students district wide: About 400 (third to 12th grade). In the middle and high school levels, some students eventually choose to no longer participate in Expand because they have the availability to take Regents classes in middle school and AP and/or honors classes in high school. Odyssey of the Mind Odyssey of the Mind teams will be decreased from the current 15 (three at each school which excludes the K-1 schools) to a total of 10 district wide next year, Rodriguez said. That doesn’t necessarily mean two teams per school, she noted. A decision how those teams will be allocated within the five schools is currently under review. Middle School and High School clubs: Currently under review Last week, the Board of Education asked for a list of clubs on the middle school and high school level to be consolidated or eliminated. Mehrhof declined to provide that list, noting the board may direct the administration to restore certain clubs when it reviews the total budget, or it may tell administration to reduce the budget even further, necessitating more club cuts. Additionally, High School Principal David Bernsley hasn’t met with the club advisors to tell them their clubs are being cut and won’t meet with them until after the BOE adopts the budget because things may change, according to Mehrhof. But Rodriguez, the secondary education director, said decisions related to any cuts were based on enrollment and where clubs with similar interests could be combined. This includes keeping clubs with small enrollments but which were unique and offered students opportunities when no other opportunities existed. On the middle school level, club facilitators will be reduced from two to one, she added. “With one, we could still offer the club,” said Rodriguez. “And we purposely kept clubs for that certain population of students who don’t have another outlet.” More efficient scheduling of classes at the secondary level Mehrhof said the district is looking at how scheduling of certain classes can be modified, which may eliminate the total number of sections a particular subject is offered. That may mean subjects where there are low enrollments would change to fewer sections with larger enrollments, but would still fall under appropriate class size levels. There will also be a more efficient alignment of Tier 1 and 2 “response to intervention” or academic intervention services, so those Tier 1 and 2 students remain in the classroom, as per state law, and pulling only Tier 3 and 4 level students out of the classroom for services as required, he said. Goodbye to all intramural sports district wide The district’s before school and after school intramural sports program will be discontinued in the fall. “The district’s K-12 intramural program is an extension of our physical education program, but it is a non-instructional program,” said George St. Lawrence, the district’s athletic director. “It enhances the skills taught in physical education.” St. Lawrence said the decision to discontinue intramural sports was based on the notion that officials wanted to stay as far away from disrupting the core physical education program as possible. Last year, the district cut the total number of intramural teams - throughout the year - from 90 to 45. Now it will go to zero. “Intramural sports is a small program with a relatively small body of students,” he said. “It was something nice to have when we could.” Current participants in the district’s intramural program: District wide and throughout the year, based on the sport: 400 to 500 Teams: 90 in the 2009-2010 year, cut to 45 this year and zero in the fall Middle School: Modified sports continue The community rumor that modified seventh and eighth grade sports programs are being eliminated is false, George St. Lawrence said. “We’re not losing any modified seventh and eighth grade teams,” he said. “All the teams we have this year on the middle school level will remain. High School: Goodbye to freshman sports On the high school level, all freshmen sport teams will be eliminated next year as a part of the proposed budget, St. Lawrence said. While at first blush that might cause some anxiety to incoming freshmen who want to try out and play football, boys baseball and girls/boys basketball, St. Lawrence said they will have the opportunity to try out for the junior varsity (JV) teams. This is identical to what is currently in place for freshmen who want to try out for any JV sport for which there was no freshmen team in the past, he said. This decision was based on the number of students participating in those four sports teams, combined with the regional trend seen in virtually all districts of eliminating freshmen sports teams. “Fewer schools offer freshmen sports,” he said. “In the past we had the opportunity to do that. But now it’s a luxury we can no longer afford. Those kids will have the opportunity to play in each of those sports on the JV level if they qualify. We have to cut in hard times with the hope of bringing them back in better times.” Students currently playing on freshmen teams Football: 38 Boys winter basketball: 14 Girls winter basketball: 12 Boys spring baseball: 28 Junior Varsity sports: Two less games The number of boys/girls junior varsity teams remains the same, St. Lawrence said, but the number of games will be cut by two games per season. He said this was also a trend seen in regional school districts as a way of maintaining junior varsity teams, without losing any whole team sport, while controlling costs. “We use $350 as the average cost of every JV game,” St. Lawrence said. “That takes into account that it costs a certain amount when we’re home and a different amount when we travel, so we average it out. It really adds up.” Transportation: Consolidation The district’s Transportation Department also will be consolidating and eliminating some bus runs as part of the proposed budget, according to Cliff Berchtold, transportation director. The proposal includes adjusting pick-up and “unloading times” at Smith Clove and Sapphire elementary schools by 15 minutes earlier in the morning, with arrivals starting at 8:15 a.m. This allows drivers to drop off students earlier and begin routes for North Main, Pine Tree and Central Valley earlier, thus eliminating runs which are “time limited runs,” said Berchtold. Time limited bus runs must stop picking up students because they run out of time and have to deliver students to school versus running out of available seats, according to Berchtold. This is different from “load limited runs” for which there is no time sensitivity, and are based on the total number of students that can fit on a bus, he said. “We’d rather spend a few extra minutes and fill the bus than to have a partially filled bus,” he said. “The earlier drop off times at Smith Clove and Sapphire will allow us to consolidate some routes now.” While routes are not developed until later this spring or summer, it’s expected three routes can be consolidated. This is a large number, Berchtold said, because the transportation department is already using a computer-aided routing system optimizing the number of routes. Additionally, due to the expected reduction of middle school and high school after school programs, clubs and sports games, there will be two less activity/team buses running at 4 and 5 p.m., Berchtold said. “It’s a balance of convenience and reasonableness and safety,” he said. 'We feel a yellow school bus is always a safer way to travel than a car.” He also said the transportation team is revisiting all routes to see where vans can be eliminated and replaced with one larger bus. The district provides transportation to 58 private and parochial schools in eight counties daily, Berchtold said. His department expects to combine non-public bus runs within similar geographical areas with “compatible bell times.” That may mean slightly longer bus runs for some students, but Berchtold didn’t expect them to be significantly longer. “We had a lot of smart people sitting together and not giving up until we reached the numbers we had to,” Berchtold added. “We didn’t give up. We explored every idea.”

What’s next
The Monroe-Woodbury School Board is expected to adopt this budget on April 13.
A public hearing is scheduled on May 4 and a public budget vote, along with an election for three Board of Education seats, takes place on May 17.