Evergreen gets budget-cutting advice from panel

Teacher coaches cited as "luxury"

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Each held 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the school auditoriums:

• Tuesday, Evergreen High School

• Thursday, March 10, Mountain View High School

• Wednesday, March 23, Union High School

• Thursday, March 31, Heritage High School

Evergreen will also host a live cable TV-Internet Web cast from 6 to 7 p.m. on March 16, with Superintendent John Deeder and Chief Operating Officer Mike Merlino.

Winners: (to be cut last): Includes classroom teachers (elementary level valued most), fifth-grade band-orchestra, drug and alcohol intervention specialists, school librarians.

Losers: Includes teaching coaches, community education program, four associate high school principals, professional membership dues, district travel and meeting food costs, non-secretarial support staffing beyond school hours.

Each held 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the school auditoriums:

• Tuesday, Evergreen High School

• Thursday, March 10, Mountain View High School

• Wednesday, March 23, Union High School

• Thursday, March 31, Heritage High School

Evergreen will also host a live cable TV-Internet Web cast from 6 to 7 p.m. on March 16, with Superintendent John Deeder and Chief Operating Officer Mike Merlino.

Winners: (to be cut last): Includes classroom teachers (elementary level valued most), fifth-grade band-orchestra, drug and alcohol intervention specialists, school librarians.

Losers: Includes teaching coaches, community education program, four associate high school principals, professional membership dues, district travel and meeting food costs, non-secretarial support staffing beyond school hours.

An ad-hoc budget committee mostly composed of Evergreen Public Schools parents has turned in a prioritized menu of where to start cutting as much as $27 million from the 2011-12 district budget.

And, there are some surprises.

The panel chose to draw outside the lines: It offers three new savings ideas beyond those floated by Evergreen leaders, owing to input from school employees and community members, the volunteers said.

Elimination of 33 academic coaches — certificated teachers who spend their days coaching their peers, one inside each Evergreen school — and culling one associate principal from each of four high schools, would save $2.4 million and $540,000, respectively.

Combined, the two cuts rank in the top eight items listed. They would produce nearly $3 million of the first $3.5 million in savings targeted by the group, which handed its recommendations to Superintendent John Deeder and the school board Tuesday night.

Deeder and the board aren’t beholden to the suggestions, the culmination of several weeks’ work. The board won’t vote on a final budget plan until summer. That’s well after state legislators determine large state funding reductions, certain to force Evergreen to trim its current $241.5 million operating budget — anywhere from $5 million to $20 million, by most estimates.

The committee’s recommendation proposes cuts beyond those estimates.

But, the menu does jump-start the conversation to be led by Deeder and Mike Merlino, Evergreen finance director, when they host a series of community forums on budget choices, starting next Tuesday.

‘Luxury’ item?

The sense of the 10-member ad hoc panel, with Merlino moderating, is that the academic coaches are “a luxury that the district can not afford,” with little hard data to prove their worth, a summary report said.

The coaches repeatedly emerged among cuts cited first when panelists on their own queried teachers, parents and even school principals, Karen Hanlon, parent of two Evergreen children, told Deeder and the board.

They are “an item not helping the students as much as other (budget) items. It’s another way to not get into the classroom” with budget impacts, Hanlon said.

That feedback clashes with the high value Evergreen leaders have placed on the coaches. They’re seen as a low-cost, in-house means to improve teacher quality and student performance — the district already has eliminated out-of-town training and re-slotted coaches from administrator to teacher pay scales — and they are held up as one of the district’s core priorities.

Pressure to improve student assessment test scores under federal law hasn’t lessened, either.

Advisory members held their ground after board members questioned the input.

Even though one principal said “he’d rather retire than go without his coaches,” a wide swath of Evergreen faculty members and parents believe other forms of teacher collaboration can produce better results without the considerable salary cost, said Rob Perkins, parent of five schoolchildren.

“There’s a lot to talk about. Maybe there’s some ways of doing coaching that don’t require (so much time),” Perkins said.

Deeder said feedback he and other leaders get has been far different, setting up a “really interesting” dialogue in coming weeks.

Trim administrators

The ad-hoc committee also suggests reducing four high school athletic coordinator positions from full- to half-time positions, for a $200,000 annual savings.

That ranks No. 17 among the menu of 45 potential budget cuts, barely ahead of eliminating middle-school football (at 19th, $80,000 saved).

The proposed associate principal and athletic coordinator cutbacks would put administrator support — and salaries — back to where Evergreen’s three large high schools were before Union High School was opened, the committee noted. Those three schools dealt with hundreds more students each with fewer administrators than they do now, the panel said.

Budget cuts made the past two years have chipped away at Evergreen support staff levels and hours. That’s thinned school office ranks and forced remaining employees to juggle more duties, administrators included.

A desire to protect classrooms from direct budget impacts holds greater sway, however.

Among other “cut here first” items recommended: Eliminate payment of professional membership dues and other such funds, any travel expenses, food at district meetings and extra pay for teacher “department leaders.”

Ranked No. 9 on the chopping block: Evergreen’s Community Education program, which offers many adult classes of varying popularity. While largely self-funding, the program would cost the district $150,000 next year, if continued.

Cut these last:

At the very bottom of the 45-item menu — the spending cut of last resort, only if state funding reductions are such to force Evergreen to dig that deep: Elimination of 60 teacher positions in grades kindergarten-through-fifth grade, which would save $4.65 million.

The panel chose to distribute teacher losses, and the larger class sizes that would result, between elementary and secondary schools. Members said there isn’t sufficient evidence to show larger classes in secondary schools hurt student achievement. The district hadn’t made that distinction.

Evergreen would save $5.45 million by trimming 70 teaching positions in middle- and high-schools, a choice the panel ranked 37th on its list.

Also in the bottom dozen choices of where to find savings:

o Eliminate (uniformed police) school resource officers, $350,000 saved;

o Eliminate school librarians, or “media specialists,” $2.3 million;

o Eliminate drug and alcohol intervention specialists, $450,000;

o Eliminate fifth-grade band and orchestra programs, $500,000;

o Cut one counselor from each high school, $330,000.

Class-size comments

While the advisory committee would prefer to protect classroom teachers and librarians, those two cuts would spell the difference between about $13 million and $20.5 million in savings, should its priority list be followed.

That could play right into the thick of Evergreen’s cut-off target and be very much in play, hinging on the final state budget plan.

Perkins, the father of five pupils, said most district classrooms could absorb three or so students more each (if teaching ranks were thinned) without alarming most parents, based on the feedback he got from many.

“They’re not too concerned,” Perkins told the school board. A common refrain was, “there were 30 students in every class I had,” he said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.