Parents weigh concerns over access
Monroe County School Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara, along with internal auditor Ken Gentile and members of the school board have hosted some heavy discussions with parents, teachers and administrators across the county this week.
Beginning in Key West and working their way back east, a series of nightly town hall meetings have allowed public vetting of the proposed budget cuts necessary to get the school’s reserve fund budget within at least three percent of the overall operating budget.
In Coral Shores Wednesday evening, several participants questioned Jara’s goal of a five percent fund balance instead of the state mandated minimum of three percent. Among the other financial trials on the district’s agenda is the repayment of half a million dollar payout from FEMA following Hurricane Georges in 1998, Jara responded.
“This is the beginning of a process,” Jara told the few dozen attendees at Coral Shores. “This is where we have to start a discussion on different ideas. Increasing the temperature of the school buildings one degree or not cutting lawns will not get us where we need to be.”
On Monday at Sugarloaf School, the group fielded a suggestion from a parent to post the full budget online so the public could pinpoint specific line items that could afford some cost savings to save the potential 40 teaching positions first on the chopping block.
The 2012 budget, staff salaries, the employee supplement schedule and IT budget have all since been posted on the superintendent’s page at keysschools.com, and Jara said he was open to comments and concerns.
The superintendent’s proposed reductions that have been presented at each meeting include a 40 teacher reduction at a $2.8 million cost savings; $400,000 cut from extra duty supplements; a class period reduction from 7 to 6; insurance reductions by $1.671 million; consolidation of the Academic Connections for Excellence (ACE) and Key Center Academy alternative schools in Key West for $200,000 savings; outsourcing transportation to save $600,000; legal cost reduction for $50,000; $45,000 cost savings for United Teachers of Monroe; and consolidation of the district office for a $300,000 savings – all total, a $6.266 budget reduction for the next fiscal year.
The majority of last year’s cuts, Jara affirmed, were at the elementary and middle school levels, most recognizably the elimination of school counselors and media specialists.
On Tuesday evening in Marathon, he assured Marathon High School athletic director Teresa Konrath that a librarian would be put back in place at Stanley Switlik Elementary School. She, along with other parents and coaches, expressed concern over how teacher cuts in the high school would directly limit access to higher-level classes like Calculus or AP Biology.
“Each of these schools is unique,” Konrath suggested, adding that the board and administration ought to consider new formulas for funding and management. “School-based management would allow each principle to determine the needs of their school.”
“Does a teacher cut at the high school level mean a reduction in class offerings?” Cindy Durkin-Bull posed to Jara.
“It’s not my direction, but it’s something that will be a challenge,” he responded.
Chris Bull suggested instead of sacrificing a teacher allocation at Marathon High School, permitting students to take virtual classes led by an instructor remotely located in Key West.
Jara said in a previous meeting, he’d heard from a student at Key West High School who was unable to enroll in AP Biology because only six students had registered for the course.
He’s reiterated across multiple meetings that, although an unlikely possibility, for the number of secondary students across Monroe County, there should only be one centrally located high school.
“That’s a challenge, a cost and a price for Monroe County,” he noted.
Though the 40 teacher reduction is not set in stone, the district will have to notify district personnel on May 2 whether or not they will still have a job next year.
“All of you in the classrooms are doing a fantastic job, and we want to make sure we keep our highly qualified employees,” Jara said Wednesday evening in Tavernier.
To review the 2012 Annual Budget, Supplement Schedule 2012, Salary Schedule 2012, Budget to Actual Report 2012 and District Technology Plan, visit keysschools.com and click on the Superintendent tab on the left side of the home page.♦ End