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NCLB Outrages

Fayette Schools Cuts Involve Specialists

Ohanian Comment: If you read far enough down in the article, you'll see that cuts were made based on subjects that "count" for NCLB.

Fayette County teachers will have to order their own materials for science labs next year. Schools will be visited less often by computer specialists. Truancy prevention efforts will be curtailed.

And coordination of services for special education, preschool and gifted and talented students will fall more to principals and teachers, a closer look at the roughly 30 positions outgoing Superintendent Ken James eliminated from the Fayette school district central office reveals.

"I don't think the children are going to get anything less," said Mona Baker, who coordinates preschool programs for low-income and special needs children. Baker is losing two of the three resource specialists she calls her eyes and ears in the schools. "There will be added responsibilities placed on teachers out in the classrooms."

Amid community assertions that the central office is bloated and should bear the brunt of budget reductions, the Fayette County Board of Education voted in March to cut at least 30 administrative positions. Some of the 38 full- and part-time employees who will lose their central office jobs work in the schools, and district leaders contend other budget reductions also will be felt by teachers and principals.

James gave school board members a list last Monday that didn't specify exactly which positions would be eliminated at the end of the school year to achieve $1.7 million in savings or whether they were already vacant. A more detailed report identifying every job affected, released Friday night by Interim Superintendent Marlene Helm, noted that savings might even be higher once the cost of benefits is included.

Nine of the people losing their jobs are directly assigned to specific schools, according to Helm's findings. Although the district pays those salaries out of its central office budget, when calculating per-pupil spending for the state, the expense of those jobs is considered a school cost.

During a Herald-Leader examination of central office staffing two months ago, at least half a dozen district leaders insisted that jobs assigned to specific schools should not be considered central office expenses. The analysis showed the district has 247 people -- excluding those assigned to schools -- who earn a total of $11 million working in its main office.

James' central office cuts include technology resource teachers who work in schools to incorporate computers into the classroom; special education facilitators who help coordinate services for special education students; and an occupat-ional/physical therapist who provides direct services to children.

Schools losing a position include: Northern, Arlington, Julia R. Ewan, Yates and Meadowthorpe elementaries; Lexington Traditional Magnet School; Beaumont, Crawford and Tates Creek middle schools; and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

District officials say the workload will be redistributed throughout the district so that no one school bears the brunt of the cut.

"Our goal is to provide as much service as possible to as many schools as possible," said Interim Director of Technology Doug Gibson. His department lost 4.5 of 25.5 technology resource teachers.

The gifted and talented office, charged with coordinating offerings for the district's gifted and talented students, is losing nearly half of its staff, associate director Connie Jones said. This year, she and two resource specialists -- one full time, one part time -- share a caseload of 6,500 students districtwide, Jones said. The full-time resource specialist has been cut for next year.

The office is also losing the part-time help of its secretary, and the magnet school director, whose job is being eliminated.

"It will mean an additional workload on teachers," Jones said.

Lee Bamberger, resource specialist for the gifted and talented, whose job was cut, said she wishes someone had asked her about what she does before the decision was made to eliminate the job. Her duties include communicating with parents, analyzing student tests, training teachers and helping identify children for services.

She said the position was created just four years ago after the district recognized a need to provide additional services for gifted and talented children.

"I'm not sure what happened to make them think this was something that could be cut," she said. "It's a disservice to the children."

But she also acknowledged no one believes their post is non-essential.

"I'm sure they will have many people saying, 'my job is valuable'," Bamberger said.

Many of the people who will lose their jobs this spring hold tenure in the district and will be placed in other school or central office openings.

But James also chose to eliminate four positions of people who were already retiring. A fifth retirement has been filled by another central office employee whose old job will be cut.

Two of the positions to be cut are currently vacant.

Later this week, employees in position to be cut will receive letters notifying them that their jobs are being eliminated and whether they are guaranteed employment, said Human Resources Director George Rogers. "Any position we've got is going to impact a school somehow," Rogers said.

Bob Joice, associate director of data research and analysis, said the job being cut from his office was going to be partially paid for by grant dollars over the next three years. Joice said that money will instead cover contracts for outside researchers to do the work.

Losing a data analyst while the board is insisting on better and more detailed information to assist in decision making will be difficult, Joice said. "We will now have two people doing the work of three."

In student achievement, three of a dozen content area specialists will be lost. There will no longer be experts in social studies; arts and humanities; or practical living, health and physical education at the central office. Teachers in the schools will be asked to help provide leadership for districtwide instruction in those subjects.

There still will be multiple specialists in the areas of math, science and language arts.

Although the state of Kentucky tests those subject areas in which personnel are being cut, the high-stakes national testing system, called No Child Left Behind, now focuses only on reading and math, said Jack Hayes, associate director of curriculum and instruction. "When you have to reduce, you have to hold on to what you're accountable for," Hayes said.

Everybody is going to have to share the pain of cuts, said Attendance Director Gary Wiseman. The loss of one of three truancy officers will hurt. Last year, the district investigated and processed more than 3,500 truancy cases in addition to running anti-truancy programs in two dozen schools.

The attendance office is paramount to student success, he said. The best teacher in the world with the most superior curriculum can't help a child who doesn't come to class, he said. And increased attendance brings more money to the district because state funding is based upon average daily attendance.

"We're no better than anybody else who got cut and we understand having to make cuts under the circumstances that Fayette County is in," Wiseman said.

— Lisa Deffendall
Lexington Herald-Leader


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