The first public hearing regarding potential school closures is set for 7 p.m., Feb. 14 at Sams Auditorium. New Fayette County Board of Education member Mary Kay Bacallao has already stated she will not vote to close any schools, and has been actively proposing alternative cost savings measures while also disseminating various studies that question the bottom line value of school closures.
Bacallao offered a list of thirteen questions to Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell and his staff, ideas she says could account for around $6.5 million of the $15 million gap that must be closed for the FY2013-14 budget. Colwell and his staff have returned their opinions of those thirteen items and and each one is a thumbs down.
"We have taken a great deal of time researching data and providing it to Mrs. Bacallao," Colwell said, "We researched the rationale. I told her I would not be in favor of any of those particular cuts because almost every item on there would be bad for the school system."
The following are brief summaries of the findings of Colwell and his staff.
Question 1: How much could be saved by cutting total employee work days from 240 to 210 (eliminating summer work hours).
This could save the system approximately $2 million, but Colwell points to an extensive list of vital work that is completed during the summer, over twenty individual items, from cleaning and maintenance to setting of the master calendar, completion of state reports, registration of new students, and various summer courses. This laundry list of items on the annual summer agenda cannot be completed without summer work hours, according to Colwell's response.
Question 2: How much could be saved from closing the Welcome Center?
Colwell says the Welcome Center, a central location for processing enrollments and withdrawals of students from the school system, actually offers an efficiency boost compared to the previous system. The Welcome Center currently employs 2.5 classified employees with salaries and benefits of around $95,000. Colwell's response indicates the old system required three full-time employees and was less effective.
Question 3: How much money would be saved if summer programs were not funded?
None, according to Colwell and staff. Federal law requires that students with disabilities who meet certain criteria be offered summer courses to prevent regression. Other summer programs are funded out of of grant money that can't be reassigned or through student tuition, so cutting these programs wouldn't benefit the system's bottom line.
Question 4: What is the cost savings of putting Instructional Coaches back in the classroom?
The system no longer has graduation coaches, only Instructional Supports Teachers (ISTs) which are federally funded, and those grant dollars will fully cover those positions in the coming budget, and those dollars cannot be used for the general budget, so no cost savings could be realized by this move.
Question 5: What would the cost savings be from using paraprofessionals as supervisors for In School Suspension (ISS) rather than a teacher?
Middle schools already use parapros for those positions, while high schools use certified teachers since content areas are specialized and students require extra support to stay on track for graduation. All ISS teachers also assist with extra-curricular activities.
Question 6: How much could be saved from having middle and high school department chairs teach five of six classes, eliminating the extra period allotted for performing department chair duties?
None. Middle school chairpersons do not teach fewer classes currently. These chairpersons fulfill a number of roles as leaders to their fellow teachers, in preparing schedules for their departments, and in working with parents and counselors. Adding an extra section to their teaching schedules would not enable the system to hire fewer teachers.
Question 7: How much money could be saved if the "7 period day" at Sandy Creek High School was reduced to 6 periods like the other schools?
None. No additional teachers are used for Sandy Creek's pilot program of theseven-period day, begun in the fall after two years of study by a committee of teacher, principals, and central office staff.
Question 8: How much could be saved from "right sizing" staff at smaller schools rather than closing those schools?
Because of the way FTE funding works, "right sizing" the two smallest schools in the system would force those schools to choose between a P.E. teacher and a teacher to cover art, music, and technology. Since P.E. is a requirement, this would mean those schools would not have art, music, or technology instruction. By consolidating the system each school can maintain those classes.
Question 9: How much could be saved if gifted teachers taught core academic subjects instead of a pull out model?
Gifted teachers do currently teach core academic subjects in the middle and high schools. The system could move its gifted instruction model from the Resource Model to the Advanced Content model, but that is limited at the moment because there are not enough trained gifted teachers, despite efforts to get more teachers certified in the last year.
Currently, to obtain certification teachers have to complete four college level classes at a cost of over $600 to the system, per teacher.
Question 10: How much money would be generated per student if more gifted students are identified?
Fayette County currently uses both state endorsed methods for identifying gifted students, and exceeds the state percentage of 12.45 percent of students identified as gifted.
Question 11: What are the cost savings for increasing the transportation radius from .5 miles to 1 or 1.5 miles?
A 1.5 mile non-transport zone could save approximately $525,771 in personnel costs and $145,222 in fuel costs. These figures factor in all students within 1.5 miles of their school, including instances where the student would have to cross busy streets or divided highways.
Question 12: How much money would be saved from putting sixth graders in elementary schools to bolster those capacities?
This would lose the system around $650,000 because of the way GBE funding is set up. In order to break even on that loss the system would have to eliminate nine teaching positions. While it would bolster elementary school capacities, it could necessitate additional elementary teachers to keep class sizes reduced and would leave middle schools under-utilized.
Question 13: How much money could be generated from charging students for bus service?
Current state law does not allow charging students for transportation to raise revenue.