Accelify Blog

South Bend School Board Makes Millions In Cuts

March 30, 2010

Heartache was heavy Monday, as South Bend school board members voted to cut more than $7 million from the corporation’s budget over the next two years, including more than 75 total jobs. But, school board members say they also felt an air of something else: compromise.

The cuts will be felt across the board, from teachers and administrators to summer school programs. But, after months of discussion, the cuts themselves were actually cut back Monday.

Working from a list of nearly $9 million in recommended cuts generated by Superintendent James Kapsa, the board went line by line, weighing what could be cut and absorbed–albeit painfully–and what was too critical to lose.

At the end, they left with a rundown of cuts nearly $2 million less than Kapsa’s original list, leaving them about $1.2 million short of the required $8.2 million in cuts required over the next two years. That included the addition back of at least 43 positions.

But, it didn’t leave the chopping block empty.

Among Kapsa’s original list of proposed reductions to personnel were at least 118 total positions:

-10-20 certified teachers (based on class sizes allowed by contract)
-12 special education teachers
-2 bilingual education teachers
-10 social workers
-15 librarians (10 at Intermediate Centers, 5 at Primary Centers)
-38 administrative and instructional assistants
-8 central office administrators

Monday, some board members said some of the positions had to stay, for one simple reason.

"At the end of the day, it will be the students who suffer from the cuts," said board member Dawn Jones. "I would like to say, let’s not cut anything and go home. But, we have to. It’s excruciating. You sit here and go through each one and you know you’re impacting people’s lives. That’s something that just goes over and over in your head."

But, board members say their cuts were made with student success in m ind. That’s why they voted to add back all administrative assistants, all intermediate center librarians and all social workers. Administrators hope at least half of the cost of the nine social workers can be covered by a competitive grant.

Teacher’s union leadership weren’t happy that teaching positions weren’t added back as well, but said additional support staff would increase student achievement.

"It’s always difficult to cut teaching positions because that’s the direct instruction. That’s why it’s so important to protect those positions. But, we were pleased to see that there were fewer cuts of librarians and social workers than what they had first given," said National Educators Association-South Bend Uniserv Director Heidi Miller.

"Support staff are your right and your left hand," agreed NEA-South Bend President Jason Zook. Anytime you cut support staff, it’s like cutting teachers in a sense, because they’re very important to what we do."

As for teachers, pink slips will go out by seniority by May 1st.

"Everything is by the guide of the contract. Those people that were in cut positions, there’s procedures we’ll follow. They’ll be some bumping and things like that," Zook said.

Still, Zook and Miller agreed students will definitely feel the impact of cuts in other areas too, but board members worked to temper them a bit on Monday.

The proposed elimination of intermediate center baseball, softball and soccer was added back by the board Monday. But, it comes at the expense of an across the board cut to intermediate and high school athletics in the amount of $77,230.

Coordinators for the high school magnet programs will also continue their duties full time, though their pay will be reduced to nine months, saving them from being forced to teach three classes each. Some parents feared would harm their childrens’ educations.

Proposed cuts of up to $50,000 that would have forced families to pay nearly $700 for testing fees in the International Baccalaureate program at Adams High School, was reduced to $25,000. Kapsa also said his staff is seeking a grant of that amount to cover the cost.

High school department heads won’t be eliminated.

But, other cuts to programs like summer school will remain. Swimming pools at Jackson and LaSalle Intermediate Centers will be drained and closed and school travel budgets will be cut by 50 percent.

And the chopping block isn’t empty yet.

"We accomplished some of it," said board member Roger Parent. "But, I want to see more cuts and reorganization and consolidation of staff in the administrative functions. I’m very interested in the central staff, and making more cuts there. And, I think the fact we have to make more cuts probably means there’ll be a more serious look at the cuts I recommended."

Those cuts would reduce non-union employee salaries between two and five percent nearly across the board, based on the amount that employee earns. Parent estimated the move would save the corporation more than $300,000.

As the rest of the deficit?

Some board members say it should come from a central office they feel is too "bloated." Board member Bill Sniadecki introduced a motion requiring Kapsa to bring the board a list of consolidations and cuts next week. It passed unanimously.

But, others aren’t so sure it’s the right move.

"I don’t think our top administration is heavy," said board President Marcia Hummel, adding that central office administrators have taken two pay cuts in the last two years.

That trend continued Monday, with Kapsa offering to give back 5 percent of his salary–about $7,250. Board members rejected the offer.</p& gt;

"That’s a generous offer, but you’re earning every penny you get," said board member Sheila Bergeron.

"With Roger [Parent’s] proposal, if you add that up, that’s 15 percent off of it. That’s a heavy hit," she said. "The bloated administration–that’s the public’s perception because they don’t want to cut somewhere else. But, you need oversight on everything. I think it could cause problems down the line, and that’s something the board will have to weigh."

The board will also weigh potential school closures or reorganizations. But, not until at least April 14th, and Hummel said they’re not including potential school closures as part of the budget cutting solution at this time.

Still, there is no denying the weight of the cuts already made are taking their toll.

"It’s just hard…very hard," said Jones.

"It’s gut wrenching for all of us," Hummel agreed. "No one wants to do this."

The board will meet again on April 7th to consider the additional reductions.