School officials to receive cutback suggestions today

Monday, December 15, 2003

Everyone associated with the Cape Girardeau School District will be affected in some way by the impending $1.3 million budget cuts.

Teachers who aren't losing their jobs will lose insurance coverage, deal with larger class sizes and have extra cleaning duties due to cutbacks in custodial staff. Some counselors and library assistants will be eliminated at every level. Extracurricular activities will not only have a smaller budget, students will have to pay to participate in them.

The school board will officially receive superintendent Mark Bowles' recommendations for cutting the district's $35 million budget by 4 percent at its meeting tonight and will vote on the issue Jan. 26.

Residents representing several groups, such as Franklin Elementary and the music department at Central High School, are expected to speak at the meeting in protest of the cuts.

The closing of Franklin Elementary School is not on the current list of recommended cuts, but it may be considered for the 2005-06 school year.

The recommendations Bowles will present to the board will all take effect next year.

Of those recommendations, the biggest single savings will come from eliminating dental insurance for all employees, which officials expect will conserve more than $161,000.

Grouped together, job losses or decreases in hours account for more than 70 percent of the cuts, or $922,000.

Participation fees 'awful'

District officials expect to gain $25,200 by charging students to play sports or participate in school clubs.

Student Senate president Katie Porter said participation fees may prevent some students from being involved in school.

"I think it's awful," Porter said. "Clubs and sports are what keep kids out of trouble. We already pay so many fees, and there are already extra expenses for sports that families have to pay for. It's wrong."

The recommended cutbacks take comparable chunks out of every part of the district's budget: $211,000 from the high school; $186,000 from the middle school and junior high; $175,000 from elementary; and $200,000 from central administration.

Nearly $600,000 in cuts have a districtwide impact, such as eliminating dental and life insurance.

Of Cape Girardeau's 10 public schools, Central Middle School stands to lose the most employees under the current recommendations. All total, 27 people throughout the district may lose their jobs if the cuts are approved.

On top of losing three teachers at the end of the 2002-03 school year because of budget cuts, the middle school faces the possibility of eliminating a library assistant, a counselor, three additional teachers and an administrative assistant.

Middle school principal Frank Ellis said his school is losing so many staff members because it had even smaller class sizes than the state's highest standards called for.

Other schools were already at minimal standards, and therefore couldn't drop down without risking the district's accreditation standing.

"There are a lot of concerns about that from my teaching staff," Ellis said. "It feels like we're getting hit harder, but when you look at it on paper, we were above the standards."

'Bit more challenging'

With the potential loss of two sixth-grade teachers and a fifth-grade teacher, the school will average class sizes of between 25 and 26 students, compared to 19 or 20 student per class last year.

"It will be a little bit more challenging for the teachers," Ellis said. "But we'll continue our business of educating students."

Three other teachers within the district may lose their jobs -- a third-grade teacher at Blanchard Elementary; a fourth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary; and a music teacher at Central High School.

The loss of a teacher at Jefferson will leave principal Mark Cook with only two fourth-grade teachers.

Cook said this year's third-grade class is fairly small, so at least for next school year class sizes for the two remaining teachers should only increase by three or four students.

"Of course it will have an impact. We never want to lose a teacher," Cook said. "And class size is very important, but we'll work with it."

For a complete list of the recommendations Bowles will make at the board meeting, click here.

335-6611, extension 128

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