The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

 
 

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Cuts at high school challenged for next year

Educators speak out against proposed schedules and resource allocations

 


The proposed $15,804,694 budget for Valdez City Schools in FY 15 may be balanced but it is off kilter according to critics.

A handful of teachers testified during the board of education's second budget hearing Saturday that the proposed structure of the budget – as presented – will not be in the best interest of educating students. The main concerns centered on the limited course offerings proposed at the middle and high schools and plans to "back fill" a number of courses with teachers who are not currently highly qualified in the classes they will be required to teach. Concerns that teachers that move from one type of class to a fundamentally different class such as science will not have time to fully prepare to teach the course properly.

Jenny Heckathorn, who jokingly introduced herself as the biology department of Valdez High School, spoke seriously about the possible consequences of the structure of teacher schedules.

Heckathorn is slated to teach four biology classes, her specialty, but for next year will be slated to teach two physics classes.

She said the move will not provide the best learning environment for her students and criticized the maneuver that would sacrifice two elective biology offerings in favor of moving her to a physics class for two periods.

The concept of offering physics and chemistry classes on a biyearly rotating basis was also questioned.

Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek, outgoing principal of Valdez High School, told the board that past cuts to the district's budget has already gutted the school of educational programs.

"You are below a basic high school offering now," she testified and reminded board members that she had resigned effective the end of May and did not "have a dog in this fight."

Teachers also questioned the wisdom of hiring a new physical education teacher when science offerings were being reduced.

The outgoing superintendent, Dr. Lisa Stroh, pointed out that the structure of the teaching positions in the budget can be altered later to meet the needs of education, and that the board must present the Valdez City Council with a balanced budget for its approval by May 1.

She also claimed the high school course changes were not cuts.

"We aren't cutting the course offerings," she told the board several times.

The board of education will hold one more budget hearing during its regular board meeting on April 14 and must present the Valdez City Council a balanced budget by May 1.

The next school year will be a challenging one at best for employees of Valdez City Schools.

A very large number of positions in the district are empty and the prime season for hiring education professionals is rapidly passing.

In addition to the board's decision to hire an interim superintendent for the next school year rather than try to fill the void left by Stroh's recent resignation, new principals for both Hermon Hutchens Elementary and Valdez High Schools must be hired; in addition to filling voids left by the retirement of a number of teachers, resignations of other employees including the latest retirement from the district, that of 12-year administrative assistant Flynn Stuparich.

The budget, as now written, is partially balanced by not replacing some of the positions or hiring less qualified staff.

Source: Valdez City Schools

This chart shows funding sources and amounts of funding that make up the upcoming FY15 budget for Valdez City Schools.

Acting board president Dawn Farmer questioned whether the cuts would erode the value of a Valdez High School diploma.

Board member Kathy Todd said she agreed with the points teachers brought up, but did worried about future budgets.

"I agree with everything you're asking for but I don't see how we can sustain it," she said after teacher Ruth Knight called on the board to pass a budget that will maximize offerings among other recommendations.

Board member Alan Sorum worried the budget structure was heading in the wrong direction.

"We're not going to grow our community if we screw up the school district," he said.

 

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