Arlington faced with budget issues

by Kay Duskin

President Arlington School Board

Primarily because of the current economic recession, the Arlington School District is faced with some serious budget issues. To better understand the current situation it is important to review recent history.

Since the fall of 2007, the Arlington School Directors have wrestled with a drain on the District’s reserve fund (our savings account). This was brought about by a number of factors including an unanticipated drop in enrollment (after we have already issued teaching contracts based on a higher enrollment projection) and rising fuel and energy costs. We have worked hard to maintain a reserve and live within our means without affecting student programs and academic achievement.

The State Legislature has just passed a budget that includes deep cuts in education. We are also looking at reduced state funds because of declining enrollment in our district. This requires deep and painful budget cuts. Because 85% of our budget is salaries and benefits, significant cuts require us to eliminate administrators, support staff, and teaching positions.

Unfortunately the contract that we have with the AEA (The teachers’ union) requires us to layoff the teachers with the least experience first. These young teachers include some of our most enthusiastic and innovative employees.

The bottom line is that fewer students coupled with a reduction in support from the state equals fewer teachers and larger class sizes. In recent years we were able to keep class sizes even smaller than the AEA contract numbers by using funds eliminated under the new state budget. Our current projections show that there will be in average of 24.5 students per class in K through 5, 23.3 in grades 6 to 8, and 23.1 per classroom in high school.

In September we asked our building leaders to re-examine staffing across the district and to “look outside the box.” Our goal is to have student program needs drive staff requirements. We have examined and will continue to examine every program to determine local costs, efficiencies and shared resources as we progress towards the adoption of next year’s budget in August.

Our Superintendent and the board have strived to be very transparent with this process. Superintendent McDuffy has met with staff and administrators many times since it became clear that we faced a reduction in revenue. In April we conducted a well-attended budget forum and an on-line survey. We had over 788 participate in the survey with one third of that number being staff. We also had approximately 175 people meet with the board individually. It is clear that there are members of our community who feel passionate about every program we offer.

It is essential that we prepare our students to be successful. Several years ago, the board focused on our criteria of an ideal graduate of the Arlington School District. We want our graduates to be motivated, focused with clear goals, take pride in themselves and display a positive attitude, be life-long learners and be in touch with the world around them. We also recognize that there are many motivators to keep our students engaged in the classroom. For some it may be music or drama – for others it is athletics, while others may be focused on one of the clubs or organizations at our schools. We will continue to closely look for those things that don’t work and they will end.

In the months of May and June we will be looking at our staffing levels for our classified staff — secretaries, cooks, custodians, maintenance and transportation — and for opportunities to gain efficiencies.

We, as a board and as a district, have to live within our means. Everyone must do their part and the burden is being spread at all levels and in every corner of the district. For specific details please go to the district Web site at www.asd.wednet.edu.

We will be held accountable to spend wisely, provide the best possible education, and do business in a transparent way. Hopefully the budget challenge will give us an opportunity to re-examine and change the way we have always done things and to make things better.

As painful as this process has been and will continue to be, we are still dedicated to “providing the means to accomplish dreams.”

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