Proposed cuts put elementary teachers at risk


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Some Iowa City school officials are worried proposed budget cuts could put elementary and secondary media teachers at risk.

“Naturally, when any budget cuts are announced, it scares us,” Horn Elementary Principal Kristin Cannon said. “We know that it could have an effect on the students’ education, and that creates a concern.”

Superintendent Lane Plugge suggested the cuts — presented after press time at the School Board meeting Tuesday — in hopes of saving the district up to $5 million.

Contract negotiations with teachers will determine how much money the district could save. District officials began talks with the teachers’ union on Monday, when union leaders asked for a 5 percent pay increase for teachers.

Included in the proposed cuts are elementary-school counselors and assistant principals along with elementary- and secondary-school library staff. Plugge also suggested saving in transportation costs through options such as combining bus routes or adjusting pickup and drop-off schedules.

Board Vice President Mike Cooper said the district started some of these transportation efforts after last year’s budget discussion, and he said the response has been positive.

“It’s worked out really well,” he said, noting the district has saved roughly $375,000. “I think both elementary and high-school students are satisfied, and we’ve saved money.”

Plugge also proposed an early retirement program for which up to 25 teachers could apply.

“This is where we have started,” he said. “Certainly, these are all tough cuts to make because we’ll be eliminating services as well.”

The cuts come after Gov. Chet Culver announced a 10 percent-across-the-board reduction in all state budgets in October 2009. On Wednesday, Culver submitted a fiscal 2011 budget to legislators that proposed giving districts 2 percent allowable growth and investing an additional $100 million of reserve funds in K-12 education.

School Board members said they were concerned about the number of staff cuts detailed in Plugge’s plan and suggested looking at other ways to save money.

“A lot of these cuts are people,” board member Tuyet Dorau said. “I would like to see more than staff cuts.”

Cannon, the elementary-school principal, agreed. The cuts in teachers would affect the availability of programs for students, she said.

“Media teachers are just as instrumental in the learning process for students as any other teachers,” she said. “They help in assessing the students’ reading levels, which is very important.”

But Cannon said the school would find ways to work around the cuts, if the plan is becomes final.

“We will just have to think of a creative way to continue to work hard, focusing on the areas that will most be affected by these cuts,” she said.

Cooper said the board will further discuss the cuts at the next two upcoming meetings in February.
If the board approves the proposal, Iowa City students could see increases in class sizes, he said.

“The problem is there are so many cuts you can make before it affects the classroom,” Cooper said.

“None of us are fans of increasing the student-teacher ratio, but we may not have a choice.”

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