Officials: Budget cuts won’t affect class size | SteamboatToday.com

Officials: Budget cuts won’t affect class size

Steamboat schools to remain unchanged with exception of kindergarten

Jack Weinstein





Soda Creek Elementary School kindergartners play instruments in Amy Larson's music class Friday. Kindergarten class sizes next year will increase to 20 students to one teacher, up from 18 this school year.
Matt Stensland

Despite the elimination or reduction of 34 staff members, the class sizes in the Steamboat Springs School District won't really change for the next academic year, Superintendent Shalee Cun­ning­ham said.

The Steam­boat Springs School Board eliminated or reduced 17 licensed probationary staff and 17 classified staff positions at a meeting March 29.

The district is working to address a projected shortfall of $2 million in the 2010-11 school year budget. The deficit is based on an estimated reduction in funding from the state and gifts from the Education Fund Board, as well as increased employee health insurance, retirement benefits and unemployment insurance.

The reduction in probationary and classified staff members — mostly paraprofessionals and teachers — will increase kindergarten class sizes next year to 20 students to one teacher, up from 18 this school year, Cunningham said.

She said class sizes from first to 12th grades wouldn't change next school year. In grades one to five, class sizes are 20 students to one teacher, and they are 25 to one at the high school.

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"It really didn't have a huge negative effect," Cunningham said.

School Board President Ro­­bin Crossan said while discussing budget cuts that increasing class sizes was at the top of the list of impacts to avoid.

"Our goal was to not touch class size because we know the community values small class size, and we try to do what the community wants," she said.

The city's half-cent sales tax for education was first passed in 1993 in part to keep classes small, said School Board member Brian Kelly, who was chairman of the original half-cent sales tax committee.

"We were averaging in the high 20s, sometimes low 30s," he said about the number of students in classes. "We had an occasional class out there at 40."

After voters approved the tax, the Education Fund Board was established to disburse the revenue generated by the tax. Kelly said other educational priorities for establishing the Fund Board were capital construction and land acquisition and technology.

For 2010-11, Steamboat re­­quested $800,000 from the Fund Board to pay for teachers to keep class sizes small. The Edu­cational Excellence Com­mis­sion has recommended reducing that amount to $624,000. The Fund Board will consider second readings from the Edu­cational Excel­lence and Tech­nology/Capital commissions Wednesday.

Cunningham said the expected reduction in the funding to keep class sizes small could be absorbed through attrition. She has said nine staff members have indicated that they will retire after the school year and another seven have said they will resign. Some retirements and resignations were approved at the March 29 meeting.

Despite the re­­duction in Fund Board gifts, Kelly said retaining teachers, despite 87 percent of the district's general fund being dedicated to salaries and benefits, was the School Board's goal when it began discussing cuts.

"Trying to make cuts outside of the classroom was the priority," he said. "That will continue to be a priority. The highest priority was keeping teachers in the classroom. I think we did the best we could with the money available, or darn close."

District officials have said other budget reductions could include moving maintenance and operations to the school sites, bidding snow removal, eliminating low-capacity bus routes, eliminating low-capacity sports or making them Tier 2 to support themselves, reducing the administration program budgets and school site budgets by 10 percent, and reducing the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association contract with the district.

Crossan said Cunningham and the district's administration have worked diligently the past three months to reach out to staff, parents and members of the community to gather feedback about the budget.

"I think we've done really well," Crossan said. "We've not cut any programs. We're starting to form new partnerships with community groups and businesses. In the face of something negative, we're starting to see some positives, too. The administrative team and folks in the community need to be applauded for making it better with less."

Cunningham said the district has estimated having to cut an additional $1 million each in 2011-12 and 2012-13. How that would affect class size in those years, she couldn't say.

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