By Carissa Wolf
WesCom News Service
BROOKINGS Brookings-Harbor school teachers said this week they're willing to go without supplies, field trips and even their pay to save the jobs of aides and counselors expected to be eliminated under the school district's 2007-08 proposed budget.
Teachers' personal pledges to help the district's deal with major budget woes came during a meeting between teachers, school board members and the district's budget committee last week.
The district started the 2007-08 budget with a $1.3 million shortfall, so it slashed jobs, services and programs to reach a balance budget of $18.5 million.
Some teachers offered to work without pay in order to save the $392,000 needed to pay for 10 positions slated for termination. This year the district had three budget shortfall days days that classes are not held and teachers are not paid. These days saved the district $124,000.
The meeting was held at the request of teachers, board and committee members who were concerned that teachers were left out of the budget process.
"The teachers and public having a dialogue at the latest board meeting, the sharing of ideas and thoughts have to make a bond over time," said teacher Terri Poponi. "Those who did not attend really missed something."
This year the proposed cutbacks are slated to impact among other things, counseling services at the middle and elementary schools, all-day kindergarten and the number of teachers and support staff on the district's three school campuses.
The staff cuts are slated to eliminate 10 positions, including a middle school counselor and an elementary school counselor, in what the district calls a "reduction in force" or "bumping." That's expected to save the district $392,000.
"The end goal is to keep cuts as far away from the classroom and keep the class small," Board Chairman Larry Anderson said.
Teachers at Thursday's budget work meeting were ready to open their wallets to halt the proposed cuts and save the jobs of their colleagues. Some offered to work for a couple of days without pay. Some suggested returning their pay raises. Others offered to go without supplies
"To me it's just stuff. It's a piece of matter. It's not people," Alain Chirinian, an eighth-grade science teacher at Azalea Middle School.
"I can live without a few reams of paper or some science supplies but I can't live without the next door science teacher," Chirinian said.
At least one parent offered to shoulder some of the short fall by pitching in to pay for the cost of her children's education.
"We could put the (supply) costs on ourselves in order to save or we can buy paper," said Rosaleen De Haven a parent of Brookings-Harbor students.
"We're working-class folks but if you make the appeal to us, we'll come through," she said.
Mother and teacher Jennifer Rushton said that she's willing to cut back on supplies and skip field trips that require transportation.
"As a teacher, I'm willing to give up anything that doesn't allow me to walk with my kids," she said. "I'll shoulder what costs I need to, plus I'll put out as a parent."
More than a dozen ideas were presented at the round table discussion including a reconsideration of the recent staff pay raises, which some teachers said they would not have taken had they know that they'd be facing deep cuts this year. In the end, participants said that some radical budget adjustments would need to be made to save the staffers and the all-day kindergarten program.
"What can we do in the next week if we want to save our counselors, if we want to save our kindergarten. Because cutting supplies is not going to do it," said Jamie Ryan, a member of the budget committee.
Members of the Brookings-Harbor Education Association have spent recent days studying the budget, line for line, and grappling with Ryan's concerns.
"We have some concern about the use of personnel," said Dino Cooper, a social studies teacher at Brookings-Harbor High School.
Cooper also assured that the teachers assembled to review and make suggestions about the budget in a good-faith effort to provide the best education for the district's students.
"We want to make it clear to everyone involved that the Brookings-Harbor Education Association is not headhunting," he said.
The teacher's union presented a four page review of the budget to the board and budget committee members that detailed concerns about certain line items that are consistently over budgeted and why the district spends money on advertising and a charter school when finances are so tight. The report also asked if the district was taking advantage of other funding resources such as the High Cost Disability Grant.
Teachers also wanted to know what happened to the money from line items that were not entirely used up during the year and ended up as s surplus. District Business Manager Valerie Shapton explained that money simply rolls over into next year's budget.
Shapton and other school officials also used the meeting to explain how the district has ended up with budget shortfalls offer the years. For starters, Shapton said that the cost of operating a school keeps going up.
At last week's regular school board meeting, School Board Chair Larry Anderson said that declining funds and tight budgets are nothing new to the district. He said that the schools have had to make cuts in recent years because the district's enrollment is declining yet the expense of running a school continues to go up. He said that budget shortages are not new news.
The state appropriates money to districts based upon how many students are enrolled in the schools. And the district has not been able to capture enough of this money.
"Prior to 1997 the school district was operating on the premise that there was unlimited growth," Nichols said at the budget meeting. "(We) we are still declining in growth."
High school art teacher Sheryl Tuttle implored her colleagues to think creatively and outside of the box.
"I like the concept of not looking the way we've always been looking and hitting our heads against a wall," Tuttle said.
"I don't like looking at the same problem with the same solutions."
Tuttle applauded the administrators forward-thinking that enabled them to save money on substitute costs. The district created an incentive program that rewarded teachers who didn't take sick days with a bonus. The plan worked and now the district uses fewer subs for a sizeable savings.
Nichols said that she hoped that the district could restore and build the budget back over the years.
"But we're going to have to face that were going to (have to) do without," Nichols said, noting that many districts along the coast have made substantial cut backs over the years.
"If we don't do it (make cuts) this year it's going to have to come sometime from somewhere."
In the end, teachers agreed to meet with union membership to discuss how they can find the $675,000 needed to save the staff positions that included two counselors, the all day kindergarten and a fund for roof repairs.
"It's our play now and well get back with you," Tuttle told board and committee members.