Approval of $4.7 million in reductions to be considered by Lindbergh board

Proposed cuts would impact at-risk students, board says.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Approval of more than $4.7 million in proposed reductions — including the possible elimination of 44 positions — was scheduled to be considered earlier this week by the Lindbergh Board of Education.

The Board of Education was scheduled to meet Tuesday night — after the Call went to press. Board members on Tuesday planned to consider final approval of the more than $4.7 million in reductions for the 2010-2011 school year recommended by eight committees charged with cutting the school district’s expenditures.

Each 10-member committee began meeting in mid-January to formulate a list of potential budget reductions while protecting student achievement. The roughly 150 cost-cutting recommendations formulated by the eight committees were reviewed the past two Saturdays by board members.

While the goal was to reduce next year’s expenditures by roughly $3.9 million, that target has increased by more than $800,000 as a result of a decrease in interest earnings, according to Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane.

The updated budget-reduction target is $4,716,237 while the recommended budget-reductions total roughly $4,725,000.

At Saturday’s work session, board members again conducted a page-by-page review of the roughly 150 recommended reductions, including the possible elimination of 44 positions — 33 teaching positions, two administrators and nine classified staff members. During the previous workshop on Feb. 27, board members had expressed concerns about the number of teaching positions recommended for elimination and what impact that would have on class sizes and student achievement for the coming school year.

If those teaching positions are eliminated, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Services Rick Francis told the board Saturday that the average high school class would increase by two students to 24 students from 22 students.

At Sperreng Middle School, the average size for core classes would remain unchanged at 24 pupils per class as a result of restructuring, Francis said. However, the average size for exploratory classes would increase to 24 pupils from 16 pupils.

For the district’s elementary schools, the average class size would increase by about one pupil per class.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Nancy Rathjen said, “… The average means that some classes are much smaller than that, but there are some that are much larger than that. So that means those classes would be even larger.”

Besides being concerned about reducing the numbers of teachers, board members were troubled by proposed reductions in intervention services for at-risk students, including a social worker, two “walking” counselors at Lindbergh High School and an academic monitor at the high school.

“… This is an extremely hard process for me as a board member because here’s my example: Eliminate high school academic monitor,” board President Ken Fey said. “I remember when I voted for that.

“I voted for almost all of these programs in this book and I feel in one day I’m tearing them down …”

Board Vice President Vic Lenz later noted, “… We’ve reduced guidance. We reduced a social worker. We’ve reduced an academic monitor. All of those things, we have to look at that whole package … because all of those things affect how we deal with at-risk students at the high school.”

Board Treasurer Mark Rudoff later said, “This is one of these things where you don’t miss it until you need it. It’s not a situation that you can plan for and say: Oh, I think we will need a social worker next Tuesday … My first year on the board was in ’99 and within three weeks, Columbine occurred and that was my first experience interacting with the social workers.

“And you’ve seen a number, especially at the high school, you’ve seen a number of tragedies and a number of situations that have come up and these are not situations that you can plan on …

“I acknowledge that a number of these services have nothing to do with learning in the classroom, but they deal with just the basic skills to be able to survive and some of what’s being afforded and what’s being provided by these positions is the ability to cope and deal with the challenges of life for a number of these folks …,” Rudoff said.

Lenz said, “Those positions affect how the individual student can learn in the classroom. They don’t affect the entire classroom, but they definitely affect how individual students can function in the classroom.”

At one point, board member David Peek said, “… One of the questions I have in my mind is: Are we changing the safety aspect of our schools with the walking counselor reductions, the safety people who will be cut back, things like that — are we making sure that we’re still safe …”

Rudoff interjected, “Everything’s being touched, that’s part of this uncomfortable acknowledgment that we’re making is that the answer is no, we’re not going to be as safe. The answer’s no.”

Fey said, “… For me, today we’re changing the district. I mean this is that important and I don’t believe our schools after we set a budget, after we get going and stuff like that, I don’t believe our schools will function the way they did a month ago or a year ago and that’s just a fact.”

When the budget-reduction committees assembled for the first time in January to begin their work, Lanane noted the budget-reduction target included an increase in employee health insurance premiums, man-dated increases in two employee retirement programs and a possible 2-percent employee salary hike.

Because of the increases in insurance and retirement, a zero-percent salary increase would cost $382,400 while a 2-percent pay increase would cost $1,117,400.

During the board’s Feb. 27 work session, Fey said he wanted to know if district employees would be willing to accept less than a 2-percent salary increase to save programs and jobs.

To that end, district officials conducted a Web survey that received 497 responses.

Of those responses, 301 — 60.6 percent — said they would be willing to forgo a pay increase to save jobs while 196 — 39.4 percent — answered no.

But on Saturday Fey apologized for asking the question and said the survey results were “invalid.”

“… I asked a question last week and I will take the heat for it this week. I want to apologize for causing so many employees so much anxiety,” he said. “The question was not a sinister way of circumventing the negotiation process.

“There was no way I could ask all the employees in the district my question myself. It was simply an attempt to just get a general perspective from employees on raises and jobs. Whatever compensation package the board will come up with, believe me it will follow the process.

“That compensation package will be taken by our negotiating team to the employees’ negotiating team. There will be much discussion on this topic.

“Like all other negotiations, the employee groups will either elect a compensation package or reject it. This will also answer another question I’ve been asked many times this week. If to the extent the negotiating teams can find some kind of compromise, some personnel or some programs may be brought back. That’s what we’re going to have to figure out …”

Regarding the survey, he said, “… Again, I just wanted a feel on how the employees were thinking, but it has been brought to the board’s attention that that survey is invalid. I’m very saddened to say the reasoning behind this statement is that some employees may have voted multiple times. For whatever reason, there may have been multiple noes or multiple yesses. I cannot believe this of our employees, but the LNEA (Lindbergh National Education Association) and the MSTA (Missouri State Teachers Association) representatives have told the board that happened.

“I’m truly saddened an honest question cannot get an honest answer …,” Fey said.

Noting the survey results were removed from the school district’s Web site Friday morning, he said, “This leaves each board member to wrestle with his or her interpretation of the survey results.”