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Tentative budget cuts fine art, music teachers

By Staff | Mar 25, 2009

This week 80 fine art and music teachers received notification that their job may not be waiting for them next year.
The Lee County School Board introduced a draft budget Monday that outlines removing the teachers from elementary schools to save an estimated $4 million.
For weeks parents and teachers have pled with the board to keep these programs in the classroom.
Now it seems as many as 34,000 students will have limited or no access to training in the arts, and many of “above-the-formula” teachers could join thousands of others unemployed in Lee County.
The district simultaneously unveiled a plan that could cut a total of 578 teachers by next year.
Teachers with an annual contract, who have been with the school district less than three years, are more likely to have their position cut than tenured teachers with a professional contract.
There are 1,400 teachers and 250 support personnel under annual contract in the county.
Members of the school board insist that the draft discussed Tuesday is a worst-case scenario, yet they still notified elementary teachers this week that their jobs may be lost.
“This is a preliminary list looking at a worst-case scenario. We certainly have to plan for balancing the budget if it is the worst case. I don’t anticipate that will be the final list,” said Chairman Jane Kuckel.
The Florida Legislature is dealing with a $6 billion shortfall because of unprecedented decreases in statewide revenue. Results of the state budget will determine whether damage to the district’s budget equates to $30 million or $70 million, although preview numbers are not being handed over by the state.
“I can’t tell anyone what the reductions are going to be or how bad they are going to be,” said Superintendent James Browder. “We are guessing in the dark because we don’t know what the number is.”
Vice-Chairman Steve Teuber continues to lobby the Legislature for a one-cent increase in sales tax for three years that would go directly to K-12 education. He also is hoping for flexibility in how the district uses its categorical funds for textbook adoptions and the Class Size Amendment.
“We will not cut music, arts or sports unless we absolutely have to,” said Teuber. “We believe that is paramount to a successful education.”
The Class Size Amendment caps the total number of students per classroom — 18 for elementary, 22 for middle and 25 for high — and has proved costly for the district as it expanded facilities to accommodate the mandate.
Teuber said he wants Lee County to use a school average to be considered compliant with the amendment rather than a class-by-class count.

Budget update
Budget Director Ami Desamours presented the latest information on the school district’s budget Tuesday afternoon.
She explained that many of the proposed changes in personnel have to be negotiated. One area is a possible 2 percent reduction in district salary.
Although the presentation gave a snapshot of what may happen, nothing is final until the school board approves its final budget later this year. If the district’s budget shortfall hits $51 million, for example, approximately 578 employee positions would be lost.
Custodians who cover 20,400 square feet of space will see their maintained areas increase by 15 percent and 50 custodial positions will be lost, Desamours said.
The district is also considering changing secondary scheduling to a four-by-four block schedule or seven periods. This could save an estimated $10 million, according to the budget department.
Eighty-five of the district’s flexible positions — those hired independently by principals to fill needs in a school — will also be reduced by one position per school. Positions such as guidance counselors and bookkeepers will receive standardized work schedules.
Reductions to “above-the-formula” allocations for comprehensive high schools, magnet and technology schools will amount to 36 positions and $2 million overall.
“These are reductions of the allocations, it doesn’t mean we no longer offer these programs, just that the amount we give will be less,” said Desamours.
Browder said the district is expecting 200 employees to retire or move out-of-county at the end of the academic year, potentially leaving room for younger employees to stay aboard.

Cape art education
The elimination of fine art teachers across the county could mean that an entire generation of students in Cape Coral will not receive a formal education in art or music.
If these teachers and classes are eliminated the only option left for students will be magnet schools. The only magnet school in proximity to students in the Cape is the North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts, nearly 30 miles from those who live in the south district of the city.
Those living too far from the academy or not enrolled in the academy during school choice will never have a chance to be exposed to the arts.
“The best example we can look at, if they want an art school, they’ll have to go to the North Fort Myers Academy of Arts. That isn’t a good spend on transportation,” said Board member Robert Chilmonik.
Browder insisted Tuesday that schools would have art and music programs even if that means core subject elementary teachers have to implement art lessons in their classroom.
Chilmonik said that option equates to a watering down of programs.
“The art programs won’t be art programs because we’ll expect our regular elementary teachers to teach in whatever time they have left,” he said.
Mary Miller, a district art teacher, said she does not believe teachers will have an easy time implementing bona fide art lessons on top of core subjects, especially since art is not tested on the FCAT.
Many art teachers are also scrambling to get a certification in elementary education to avoid being laid off.
“I think a lot of them (teachers) will be displaced by art teachers getting certified in elementary education, they will teach reading if they get the certification, so all of the programs will suffer,” Miller said.