Standing in front of dozens of Jefferson County Public Schools principals, the district's chief business officer acknowledged that JCPS has done a "horrible job of communicating" its proposed budget changes that could cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from some schools' budgets.
JCPS officials say the purpose of changing schools' budget allocations is to free up money and resources to be used for some of the district's priorities, such as providing differentiated instruction to English-language learners, putting more teachers in low-performing schools or beefing up early childhood education."While we can feel good about the improvements we’ve made over the past 4-5 years, we’re not where we need to be," chief business officer Tom Hudson told board members during a work session Monday. He said that, while "we all don't agree with one another," everyone agrees that taking care of kids comes first and said the budget must be reformed in order to meet JCPS' strategic objectives.But principals, parents and others have balked at the district's plan, saying it could have major effects on schools.
JCPS has backed off from its original proposal, suggesting an increase to schools' class-size funding caps to one more student than what it funds currently, instead of raising it all the way to the state class size cap. For instance, JCPS is proposing funding fourth grade at a 25-to-1 ratio, whereas it currently gives schools funding for 24-to-1 ratios at the fourth-grade level. The original proposal would have increased that ratio even more, to 28-to-1."It’s clear we overshot when we went to the first model," Hudson said. "Now we’re trying to back off and look at something that seems reasonable."The new proposal would free up about $5.5 million in teaching resources - or the equivalent of more than 90 teaching positions - that could be moved elsewhere, according to district data. Some schools, such as Ballard High, could lose as much as the equivalent of three teaching positions.The JCPS board is slated to vote to approve the schools' funding allocation standards at its next board meeting on Jan. 26. The schools will receive their allocations Feb. 2.Hudson said Monday that he and the district "manhandled" the rollout of the budget plan, saying his newness to the district and the tight state-mandated budget timelines meant that JCPS bungled the explanation of the proposal.Hudson, who started with JCPS in November, said he has taken time to speak with educators and others. He said the district backed off its original proposal after hearing "all the good suggestions of people in the field." He said he didn't want to "damage centers of excellence while remediating underperforming schools."The district also has a number of other budget change proposals. Among them: reducing the per-pupil funding for flex funds, which can be used for school supplies and other operational costs, from $140 per student to $120 per student. That would save the district more than $2 million, according to JCPS data. State law requires that schools spend at least $100 per student.Another line item shows a savings of nearly $151,000 by cutting four days from elementary school counselors' work years. And Hudson said there is discussion of eliminating assistant principals at schools with small enrollments, and instead providing those schools with half a teaching position.
Allyson Vitato, principal of Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary, said that assistant principals are integral to a school by handling a number of different issues and in turn free everyone in the school up to spend more time with students.Vitato said that, while she wasn't told about the discussion about eliminating an assistant principal at smaller-enrollment schools, communication has generally been open since the budget proposal came out.She said she and other principals came to the board work session because "we care about our schools. We want what's best for the district."Several parents and students also came to the JCPS board meeting Monday to hear more about the funding plan and to share concerns based on what they'd already been told. Some spoke during the public portion of the meeting, championing small class sizes and letting principals determine what's best for their schools.Dannae Ryan-Kessler, 14, said she wanted to attend the board meeting to learn more about what JCPS' plan could mean for her school, the Brown School."We have kind of a small school," she said, saying she worried what could happen with scheduling if the school is forced to lose teachers. "We're a good school, but we don't get a lot of funding."