Parents as Teachers faces state fundings cuts; districts facing more cuts elsewhere

Sunday, May 9, 2010
Parent educator Stephanie Ellinger, right, works with Kate Marie Buchheit, 3, and her mother, Betsy Buchheit, in their Cape Girardeau home. (Fred Lynch)

Kate Marie Buchheit, a bouncy 3-year-old, sat in front of a tray full of wooden letters.

"What letters do you know?" asked Stephanie Ellinger, a parent educator with the Cape Girardeau School District.

"K-A-T-E," she responded in a sure, loud tone.

With her mother, Betsy Buchheit, nearby, Kate used scissors and a glue stick to start an ABC book, an activity that measured the development of her motor skills and letter recognition.

As part of the Parents as Teachers program, Ellinger visits 100 families between five and 25 times each throughout the year.

The program, which is in its 25th year, is also one of many components in education facing budget cuts. This year, the governor cut $6.9 million from the program, about one-fifth of the budgeted amount, about $30.9 million. Next year it is set to be cut by $13 million.

"It's really unfortunate if you look at it from a global education aspect," said Deena Ring, director of special services with the Cape Girardeau School District.

The program allows for earlier intervention and helps parents educate and prepare their children for school. Activities range from prompting infants to roll over to measuring the development of problem-solving skills.

Ring said the program serves 338 families and 482 children in the district and receives some local funds. Next year the program personnel will be cut in half, from four to two parent educators. Districtwide, 20 positions will be lost through attrition, aside from the two Parents as Teachers positions, said superintendent Dr. Jim Welker.

While children within the program's age range will receive services, Ring said the focus will shift to birth to age 3. She said the decision was based on the families signed up for the program.

The Jackson School District will cut its program back from five and a half parent educators to three, said associate superintendent Dr. Beth Emmendorfer. She said she will not know how the cuts will affect the program locally until the district receives guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Changes could include the number of families in the program or the number visits per year, she said.

"As much as you want to be able to plan, we just realize we won't be able to do any planning until that final budget is signed by the governor," Emmendorfer said.

The program serves about 500 families and about 600 children, she said. It has a budget of $217,000 with $135,000 coming from the state, Emmendorfer said. Districts do not yet know how much money they will receive from the state.

Elsewhere in education, districts are coping with other cutbacks as they work toward next year's budgets. In addition to the extra cutbacks for the Parents as Teachers program, schools will receive less formula funding and transportation money.

Districts will receive a 2 percent cut in formula funding, which affects their June payment. The cut equals $128,978 for Cape Girardeau and $270,216 for Jackson. For next year, legislators are also changing the school funding mechanism, known as the foundation formula, because it cannot be phased in as planned because of state revenue shortfalls.

For the current fiscal year, districts will also receive $12 million less in transportation funding. The recent restrictions, $8 million announced late last month, equal cuts of $37,733 for Jackson and $20,403 for Cape Girardeau.

Cape Girardeau, which contracts services with First Student, will have to use other district funds to account for the transportation shortfalls.

"It just eats into our general revenue," Welker said.

The district is also freezing salaries, cutting back on capital expenditures and reducing purchased services. He said the district will make its biggest cutback by not filling vacant positions. Top administrators at Scott City and Perry County school districts have said there will be losses through attrition.

Jackson superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said the district will wait until after the legislative session to set salaries, as it has done in the past. While he does not yet know how many positions will be lost, he said the district waited several months to begin interviewing new hires. Interviews normally begin in February but only recently started this year, he said.

The district maintains its own bus fleet. Anderson said the district is looking at being more efficient with shuttles that run to buildings within the district. About 48 percent of the district's transportation budget comes from the state. Next year, state funds could account for 42 percent, he said.

While cutbacks across the board are being considered, he said he will have a clearer picture of how the district will be affected once the legislative session ends Friday.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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