Colorado Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, takes part in an open dialogue with members of the Hayden, Moffat County and Routt County school districts Friday at the Moffat County School District administration building. The dialogue brought ideas to the surface about impending budget cuts to public education.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Colorado Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, takes part in an open dialogue with members of the Hayden, Moffat County and Routt County school districts Friday at the Moffat County School District administration building. The dialogue brought ideas to the surface about impending budget cuts to public education.

Education cuts being brainstormed

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To state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, making cuts in education is like the human body’s response to the shock of hypothermia.

“Your body will cut off circulation to the extremities so it can keep the core warm,” he said. “You might have to eliminate some things around the edges but still keep that core. You can’t lose the fundamentals, which are reading, writing and math.”

Thom Schnellinger, Moffat County High School principal, called the current budgetary crisis a “perfect storm.” Schools around the state have to look at ways to keep the integrity of public education’s core for the 2010-11 fiscal year, when Colorado will have to cut $1 billion from its budget.

A meeting Friday tried to do just that.

White met with school board members and administrators from around Northwest Colorado Friday at the Moffat County School District administration building for the Kids First Forum.

The work session offered an environment in which to discuss dealing with the impending cuts and prioritizing needs.

Moffat County School District alone is looking at the possibility of losing more than $1 million of its $20 million budget.

In small work groups, the teachers and administrators discussed problems and potential solutions to a situation none of them wanted to be in.

However, they all thought it was necessary to preserve two things: child learning and achievement.

Jo Ann Baxter, Moffat County School Board president, said with 85 percent of the district’s budget going to personnel costs, she didn’t see how the district could avoid cutting wages or eliminating positions.

“It’s counterproductive, it’s not what I want,” she said. “But I don’t see how we can keep away from it.”

However, Tim Corrigan, South Routt County School Board president, said he was set against any wage cuts for teachers, and emphasized the value of recruiting and retaining quality educators.

“I don’t want to talk about cutting wages, because I know we’d lose quality,” he said. “Don’t cut wages, cut programs. Wage cuts would result in decreased production and decreased morale.”

Corrigan’s table, for which Sunset Elementary School teacher Zack Allen was the spokesperson, made the consensus that a reduction in resources will not allow the district to continue funding everything it currently funds and still offer quality student programs.

The other groups agreed, with many conceding that entire programs might need to be cut.

“If we cut arts, that’s going to be a big problem,” Allen said, summarizing of his group’s discussion. “It won’t be popular at all but might it be better for students in the long run? We don’t know.”

One idea seemed to float to the surface of each of the discussions.

The consensus was that more time and effort needed to be spent on recruiting and retaining quality teachers, and almost everything outside of the core of reading, writing and arithmetic was on the table for potential cuts.

However, Schnellinger said the problem extended far beyond immediate budget concerns.

“We can’t just have a Band-Aid just to get us through another year,” he said. “It won’t work.”

After the discussion, White took questions and concerns from the crowd, and explained the situation he is currently in as a legislator.

He said the government’s hands have been tied by the Colorado Constitution, which, through the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, restricts the state from raising taxes and therefore revenue.

With K-12 education being the largest budget line item — 43 percent of the total state budget — White said there is a way to avoid cuts.

“It breaks my heart to have to look at K-12,” he said. “But I have a responsibility to the budget, too. It’s a very difficult environment we’re trying to muddle through.”

He called on the citizens of Colorado to step up and help make the change.

“Colorado doesn’t have a history of being very proactive,” he said. “Historically, they wait until the train hits the brick wall before they react to it.”

He said he has called for a constitutional convention in the past and will likely pursue the idea again so the state can work through the conflicting issues of TABOR and public education funding.

But he admitted there was a long way to go and many concerns to try and hash out along the way.

Local school board member Tony St. John said he had four children graduate in Moffat County, and he was disappointed that the discussion on what to cut even had to take place.

“What bothers me is that we’re affecting children,” he said. “We have to take care of No. 1, and that is our children and teachers’ salaries. Our kids are our future. Someday, they’ll be sitting where you are, Sen. White, and they need the education to get there.”

Comments

Anitadunnce 4 years, 11 months ago

   I have several suggestions for making budget cuts at Moffat County High School.  First, this small high school should not require three administrators.  If the Principal knows how to motivate and lead, and how to be fair and consistent and firm in directions and student discipline, he should not need two Assistant Principals to clean up messes caused by his mixed messages to faculty and students.

   One of Principal Thom Schnellinger's biggest problems is that he is inconsistent.  For example, when teachers are told as a group that they should send misbehaving students to the office for discipline, teachers do it.  In the view of teachers, behavioral infractions are the province of the administration to handle, as teachers already have their hands full with lesson planning; teaching; grading; and communicating with parents and students.  Teachers are satisfied to let the administration do its job of handling student discipline.  When teachers later are told, however, that they were wrong to send a student to the office and that they should have handled the issue in the classroom, then teachers are receiving an inconsistent message.  Further, students pick up quickly the message that administration is not supportive of its teachers, and that gives students the upper hand in that they are able to manipulate the situation by running to the office to tattle.  It is simply devastating for a school to support an atmosphere in which teachers do not get the respect or support from their Principal that they deserve as professionals.  This is what is happening at the high school at this time.

   Another example arises when teachers are told by Principal Thom Schnellinger that he will refuse to allow parents to dictate when he removes a child from a classroom, merely because a pushy or controlling or wholly unpleasant parent wishes to "punish" a teacher for having the audacity to discipline a child.  Thom Schnellinger needs to keep his word.  He appears at this point to have only a fleeting familiarity with honesty and integrity.  He appears to be a weak pushover when he makes a promise like that to his faculty and then breaks the promise.

   Next, cuts can be made to the physical education programs, because students are able to get sufficient physical exercise through organized sports programs.

   Last, dire economic times require cuts in foreign language, psychology, criminology, anthropology, chorus and perhaps band.  The foreign language classes can be taught by one teacher rather than two.  Psychology, criminology, anthropology, and chorus may need to be cut as unaffordable fluff.  Band and drama may need to be handled has "club" activities after school, which my research into school budget cuts reveals that other Colorado high schools are doing.
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George Robertson 4 years, 11 months ago

Question for mavis. Are there enough brains in Steamboat for a storm?

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als362 4 years, 11 months ago

If I were in charge the first cuts would be in extracurricular acitvities like sports. The cost of trainng, equiping, and transporting all these teams is money that could be better used to buy books, teachers and classroom facilities. If parents and kids are avid about playing these games, then the parents and kids should foot the bill for at least the equipment and transportation.
I don't think it is right for the school system to suffer in its ability to teach, so a few can play a game.

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Anitadunnce 4 years, 11 months ago

   I am perplexed about the reason that we are not reading more comments by parents on this blog. First, it is clear that the school district budget must be trimmed. Second, because of the sports and other extracurricular activities at the high school, it appears that the most natural place to find most of the cuts is in the high school budget. Third, because the high school is top-heavy with administrators, it is arguable that the high school administration is the first place to start cutting.

   Parents of high schoolers are scheduled to meet this week. Hopefully the parents will come to the meeting armed with some meaningful suggestions for budget cuts. The parents' tax dollars support the public schools, and therefore the parents should realize that they are welcome, and in fact responsible, to make relevant and meaningful suggestions with regard to the continued operation of our schools.

   With regard to the top-heavy administration at the high school, I have only this to add. Steamboat Springs High School and Moffat County High School have approximately the same number of students at this time, 660. The parents should be asking themselves two questions:  a. Why is it necessary for the high school in Steamboat to have only one principal and one assistant principal, whereas the high school in Craig has one principal and TWO assistant principals? b. What is the annual cost to MCSD of the three (3) high school administrators?

   The parents in Craig have the right to this information, but it appears that the School Board here has become somewhat less transparent over the past couple of months as the minutes of previous meetings during the current and previous school year are not as readily available to the public on the school district site. Most teachers are aware of the salaries of their high school administrators, so why are the parents not informed about those facts?  The parents must ask questions, and they will discover that the annual salaries of Thom Schnellinger, Travis Jensen, and Michael Silverman total approximately $250,000, in addition to health insurance and other benefits.  Parents should ask themselves whether they find it necessary to have three administrators at the high school, or whether it would be preferable to retain two teachers for the salary of just one administrator.
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