Budget woes cutting into school programs
MINDEN, Nev. – The ongoing budget crisis in the Douglas County School District has come crashing down on school employees and a host of programs.
At the beginning of May, the district office notified 20 employees that their positions would be eliminated or reduced, per contract noticing requirements. The measure was in addtion to 17.5 positions already eliminated due to declining enrollment.
Superintendent Lisa Noonan said most positions related to declining enrollment were eliminated through attrition. That was not the case in the latest round of pink slips.
“I feel terrible to put people through uncertainty,” she said, “but we have to notice by May 1.”
According to the 2012-13 tentative budget passed in April, the district is facing a $1 million gap in the general fund. A 2.5-percent pay cut across the board was proposed in the tentative budget as a way to bridge the gap.
Negotiations with employee unions, however, are still ongoing. Noonan couldn’t discuss details of negotiations, but said the bus drivers union is the only bargaining unit that has reached an agreement.
“We’ve had $6 million in total cuts since the economic downturn,” she said. “Those margins, supplies, materials and other things, have been cut. We’re hoping that we’re over-planning to make sure we balance the budget. We’ll work backwards from here once we know the final numbers.”
Of the 20 positions affected in the latest round, 13 will be eliminated, and seven will be reduced, Noonan said. Reductions mean that some teachers will have three classes instead of five.
“Most of these are secondary level positions,” she said. “We’ve maxed out class sizes in grades 1-6, so these lean more toward middle and high schools.”
After crunching the numbers, Noonan said, the district office informed site principals more reductions were necessary. Principals in turn had to review all programs.
“It included English, science, social studies, special education, music, Spanish and counseling,” Noonan said. “Thirteen full-time positions were spread out across the board, so no one program or subject would be eliminated. We had to make cuts well-rounded enough that kids would still have access to every subject.”
But some long-standing programs will be affected.
“What I am worried about are the kids,” said Douglas High Music Director Bill Zabelsky. “It’s just unfortunate for them. They’ve worked so hard. They’re all excited about next year’s shows.”
Zabelsky said the high school music program will be reduced by 40 percent under current proposals. That means two of his courses would be dropped, including study hall and choir. Jazz band, regular band, and Madrigals would still conduct classes, but he doubts whether extracurricular events would continue.
“I would have to get a part-time job, and therefore not take the stipend to do the marching band,” he said. “It comes out to about $1.50 an hour. I do it because the kids need a program. There would be no marching band. There would be no Madrigals singing outside of school. There would be no trips to attend, no competitions, no band at the football games.”
Zabelsky, who has taught in the district for 33 years, said he has some other options, though. He could retire with 82 percent of his benefits, or he could teach some elementary school music courses to stay full-time.
But he feels the award-winning high school program he’s built up over three decades would still be jeopardized.
“I would really like high school kids to continue the marching band and have Madrigals sing in the community,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ll survive. It’s about the kids in the community.”
A similar reduction would take place at Carson Valley Middle School, where Zabelsky’s daughter, Sarah Holland, teaches music. Five courses would be cut to three, and Holland would work part-time.
Noonan said the cuts were based on current enrollment in the courses. DHS and CVMS administrators decided not enough students were signed up to keep all 10 music classes. In contrast, Noonan said, Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School students showed more interest, with 29 percent of the student body enrolling in music, versus just 8 percent at CVMS or Douglas High.
“This is really standing back looking at the schedules and trying to serve kids,” Noonan said.
Zabelsky, however, said it’s premature to cancel classes because of low enrollment. For instance, the nine students signed up for choir doesn’t take into account Madrigal tryouts this week. Traditionally, Zabelsky said, those who don’t make Madrigals end up taking his choir course.
“I would have over 20 kids in choir next year,” he said. “The band at the high school will have 57 kids in grades 10-12.”
Zabelsky mentioned the school’s annual spring concert, which is 7 p.m. May 17 in the commons, to say that it may be his last.
“On one aspect it’s a shame. I kind of hoped I’d go out on my own terms when I was ready,” he said. “What’s happening to us? I really don’t like teachers here being laid off, young and old, and being used as pawns in negotiations. Didn’t we go through this last year? Why do we need to do it every year?”
A hearing on the 2012-13 final budget is scheduled for 5 p.m. May 16 at Douglas High School.