Teachers have say in potential budget cuts

About 100 District 51 teachers gathered last week to discuss their priorities for an anticipated fourth round of district budget cuts next year.

Jim Smyth, president of the Mesa Valley Education Association, said the teacher representation group has conducted surveys in the past to gather teacher opinion on the budget. This year, Smyth decided a series of public discussions with members, starting with the one on Dec. 12, would be a more productive way to gather ideas to bring up in next year’s contract negotiations with the district.

“They want to make sure the school board listens to what they say because teachers are the ones who have to implement everything,” Smyth said.

The school board will make final decisions on the 2012–13 budget, which the state projects will need a $3 million to $5 million trim in addition to the $28.6 million cut since 2009.

Although the board has not announced what items it may cut next year, East Middle School teacher Darren Cook said teachers at last week’s association meeting discussed a four-day school week, staff reductions, cuts to transportation and an increase in class sizes. Cook was appointed last week to the district’s new budget advisory committee and has been part of the contract negotiation process for nine years.

“The reality is, we’re going to have fewer teachers next year,” Cook said.

Fewer teachers tends to mean more students per class, he said.

“The more kids you pile into a classroom, the less time you can spend with them individually,” Smyth said.

Cook said teachers are not happy about having five paid days removed from their contracts in the past two years. But Cook said many would rather have a pay reduction than try to teach 30 kids in one elementary classroom. Cook worries that another pay cut, though, may make the profession less appealing.

“I hope whatever happens, it’s a one-year thing and then we revisit it as a community,” he said.

District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita said she welcomes any input the association and local teachers have to share.

“We’re to the point where we’ve cut so much that these cuts are really difficult to make and they will be impactful, so we need people’s perspectives,” she said.


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