By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Concerns about proposed cuts to the Monticello Community School District’s reading recovery and Title I programs drew an impassioned response during a school board work session Thursday, May 17.
The proposed change is one of many suggested by the district’s administrative team in efforts to offset upcoming losses.
But it was the only change that drew feedback at this session. And there was plenty of it.
The proposal involves removing one teacher from the program and into the classroom. If the proposed cut is approved, the number of students served by the program will be reduced from 60 to 30.
Superintendent Chris Anderson said the proposal is in the early stages. It was not voted upon in the regular school board meeting May 21, but may be on the agenda for the June 25 regular meeting.
“What we are looking for tonight are suggestions and input,” Anderson said.
Thirty-five visitors attended the work session. Eleven of those spoke – often emotionally -in defense of the programs.
Their themes were similar: that reading is the worst possible place to cut in times of economic trouble, that many children have been helped – sometimes dramatically – by the program, and that if the program is cut, more students will “slip through the cracks.”
One parent fought back tears as she spoke of how reading recovery turned her son from someone who felt “stupid and embarrassed” about his struggles with reading into a student who likes to read.
“Without the help of this program, he would not be where he is today,” she said.
A father described how his first-grader advanced from Level 8 books to Level 20 in 12 weeks of the program.
“To watch him sit down and read; his face lights up,” he said. “He gets it. Don’t take that away from any of these other kids.”
One teacher feared a “ripple effect” of such cuts, that if more students struggle with reading, it will affect other skills throughout school.
Still another teacher said, “We’re not cutting staff, but we are cutting services. When you start cutting positions that are hands-on with students every day, that is lifeline risky.”
Proposed changes were defended in a statement read by board president Jeff Hinrichs.
“If we don’t change, we’ll be in the red by this time next year,” Hinrichs read.
The statement said there are several reasons; a 10 percent across-the-board cut mandated by the state, and allowable growth rates that don’t keep up with increased costs, among others.
Superintendent Chris Anderson said the district stands -in a worst-case scenario – to be $480,000 in the red a year from now if cuts are not made.
“Taking proactive steps to realign staff now will help us avoid deeper cuts in the future,” Hinrichs read.
Elementary school principal Denny Folken described how Title I funding has not increased while costs have, which is creating part of the problem.
“There’s no new money,” he said. “We’re going to be $42,000 short for Title I funding next year.”
Several cost-saving measures have been implemented, including cuts of hours to the board secretary position and shared administrative services.
Others have been proposed, the largest of which include reducing four FTE teaching posts through attrition, which will save $210,000; and a moratorium on new tech spending, saving $80,000.
Food and food service took up much of the discussion as the school board held its regular meeting Monday, May 21.
First, the board approved the first reading of a new wellness policy, which it must approve to be in compliance with new federal requirements.
The most obvious changes will be noticed by students in the coming school year; more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in school lunches.
“It’s definitely going to be a night-and-day difference for them,” food service director Pat Kelly said.
As part of the policy, staff members will go to classrooms with props to help illustrate the changes in the lunch program.
Also, the board approved the shared food director agreement with North-Linn, and approved an increase of lunch prices to $2.05 for the elementary schools and $2.15 for the middle school and high school.
In yet another food-related item, the board authorized Superintendent Anderson to look into allowing the high school football team to grow and sell sweet corn as a fundraiser.
Board member Angie Beitz expressed concern about families that already sell sweet corn in town. Anderson will contact them and approve the fundraiser if it is determined the team’s sales would not be hurting those operations.
PHOTO: Audience members and School Board members (at table) listen as Barb Balster (in red) speaks during the board work session May 17. (Photo by Pete Temple)