School staff reluctant about more cuts

More cuts were the last thing many of the 30 School District 51 staff members wanted to discuss at an employee budget forum Thursday at Fruita 8/9 School.

After three years of cuts totaling $28.6 million, many in the school’s mostly-bare cafeteria Thursday have felt the impact of losing colleagues, dealing with increased class sizes and taking on more responsibilities.

District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita opened the meeting with the “good news” that the state Legislature is unlikely to take another $2 million to $4 million away from the district in 2012–13. Still, staff members were tasked with identifying $3 million to $4 million of cuts to account for a mandated increase in retirement benefits,  an enrollment decline and funding for capital projects.

Staff reviewed 28 options and listed which changes they would be at least partially willing to see the board make. Cutting 7.5 percent of the staff who support schools outside the classroom in custodial work, grounds-keeping and other areas could save $2.1 million. Cutting one-fifth of the 31.13 full-time equivalent employees who work as coordinators, directors and executive directors in central administration could save $580,000. Charging students who don’t receive free or reduced-price lunches $10 a month for busing could raise $360,000.

It would take more cuts, they were told, to start putting back previously cut items, such as reading-aide positions and salary increases.

An elementary teacher named Cathy, who did not want to provide her full name, said she worries young teachers will leave the district or decide not to go into teaching if those increases are not restored. She said morale is at the lowest level she has seen in three decades, partly because of the cuts and partly because employees aren’t sure their voices are being heard.

A four-day school week received positive responses from community members and district staff in a survey, which will close today on the district’s website. The idea also received some support during staff and community budget forums. But the board decided Tuesday against it.

“We’re confused about what the surveys say and what the board has decided,” Cathy said. “People figure (budget decisions are) a done deal.”

Others said they were discouraged by the voters’ recent rejection of raising the mill levy.

Cathy Story, director of Hilltop’s The Commons, who facilitated the forum, asked employees to share their opinions instead of feeling defeated.

“You can’t get discouraged, because the decisions are going to be made with or without you,” she said.


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