A number of community members, teachers and students turned up at the Durham school board meeting Thursday night to air their concerns about the possible loss next year of 323 school employees, including 237 teachers, due to proposed budget cuts.
Among them, many decried cuts of teaching positions that will increase class sizes, and asked board members to look at the budget again to find different cuts that will keep classrooms smaller. Some even urged the board to put $13 million back into the budget and try to persuade the county manager and commissioners to fund it anyway.
"In order for me to be an "A" teacher, I need "A" resources," said Bryan Proffitt, a social studies teacher at Hillside High School. "I'm being constantly asked to do more with less." A Hillside junior, Elisa Benitez, also spoke, asking board members to submit a fully-funded budget to county commissioners.
Northern High School teacher Deborah Alcorn also spoke, letting the board know that she's worked in classrooms of 35 to 40 students, and it doesn't bode well for student achievement and classroom management.
"I look at my classroom now, and I see that [my students] will not be successful in a classroom of 30 or 40 students," she said. "How are they going to get the attention they deserve?" She also cautioned the board that if class sizes were unmanageable, more students would dropout and school violence would increase.
Under the budget proposal, class sizes would increase by 3.5 students across the school district. There is no set student-teacher ratio for the district—it varies by school, according to DPS officials. (The Indy requested a breakdown of class sizes Thursday and is awaiting the information from DPS.)
Aside from teacher cuts (the heftiest slash) others items to be cut include $500,000 in software licenses, $30,000 in cell phone usage, more than $100,000 from grounds-keeping and janitorial services, and $13,000 in soda, bottled water and other refreshments served at meetings at the schools' Staff Development Center. The budget also proposes cutting coaching supplements to save $286,500 and stipends given to teachers for other duties they take on at school, which would save $163,200.
Jordan High School student Jackie Randell, who works for the school's student newspaper, spoke against the cut in teacher stipends, which would affect her newspaper adviser, who spends countless hours with students putting together the Falcon's Cry.
"Sometimes we work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and she's with us the entire time," Randell told the board. "It would just be tragic if she was not compensated for her time."
The board appeared to take the message to heart. They talked at length about additional options for savings, such as asking top administrators or even board members to give up part of their respective salaries and stipends. But no suggestion was drastic enough would pool together the $13 million the district needs to save teacher jobs.
"Five teachers, two teachers, three teachers is not going to cut it," said Minnie Forte-Brown, chairwoman of the school board. "We can't nickel and dime it."
What's next: The board will meet on Thursday, May 6, for a public hearing on the budget, where some members hoped the public would give more input into what could be cut instead of teacher positions.
And later today, Proffitt and Benitez, the teacher and student from Hillside, will be among dozens of protestors who plan to participate in a rally this afternoon of the newly formed Umbrella Coalition, a group that wants the county to make up the schools' budget gap with its "rainy day fund" balance of $36 million. The protest starts at Hillside at 3:15 p.m. and will end in front of the county building on Main Street downtown.