More than a hundred teachers, parents and students holding hand-drawn placards faced off against the District 65 board of education Monday night over while increasing the workload of others.
“We need changes in district 65,” teacher’s union president Jean Luft told the board. “Teachers need reasonable workloads and adequate planning time.”
Luft was among 40 people who signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, which was so packed that some people sat on the floor while others stood against the walls and spilled out into the hallway (). The majority had come to show their opposition to the proposed budget cuts, which also include reductions to the number of aides for the district’s two-way immersion Spanish/English classes.
While discussion of the proposed cuts was not on the night’s agenda, board president Katie Bailey announced that the board had prepared a statement in response. Thanking the speakers for sharing their thoughts, Bailey told the crowd that the board of education was concerned about projected deficits in the future.
“Our process began last spring, when we saw a large deficit looming,” Bailey said. “Large deficits and the cuts they demand can destabilize a school district.”
The proposed cuts, Bailey said, were designed to avoid a bigger problem in the future, and continue to be up for discussion until the budget is voted on in August.
“We are avoiding the massive layoffs that some districts have faced,” she said. “We believe our approach is better than having larger class sizes and fewer classroom teachers.”
, who has taught P.E. in District 65 for the past 26 years, was among the teachers who spoke up. If the plan to cut staff and reallocate classroom time is passed, she would be required to teach 14 classes per day, not the 12 she currently teaches. Because there would not be enough P.E. teachers for each school to have their own under the district’s plan, Silkaitis would travel to another school to teach the other two classes.
“Fourteen classes may look fine on paper, but you can’t see the every day effort it takes to teach with such a demanding schedule,” Silkaitis said. “Why have a teacher travel to another school just for an increase in two classes?”
Amy Wharton, chair of the elementary school’s library program, also said that traveling teachers would be a problem. While some of the district’s fine arts staff already teach classes at multiple schools, the district’s plan would mean all of the fine arts staff are shared among schools.
“Having traveling teachers erodes participation in the school culture, their ability to collaborate with other teachers, and the ability to help students outside of class time,” Wharton said.
Along with teachers, parents were also present to speak out against the proposed cuts, including a number of parents from , whose art teacher would lose her job altogether if the board passes the district’s plan.
Kimberly Darovec, whose stepson attends Dawes, spoke passionately about how arts education had affected her stepson, whose early kindergarten drawings were nearly illegible, given how lightly he drew.
“Nine months later, with the aid of his art teacher at Dawes Elementary, he has learned to apply more pressure when drawing, and that has trickled down to his writing,” Darovec said. “Through art he has learned to make his mark on the world in a bold fashion.”
Fellow Dawes parent and opera singer Alicia Berneche had a personal story about the effect of her own elementary school music teacher, who helped Berneche and her siblings find scholarships for music lessons they otherwise could not afford.
“My whole school career was on free lunches. I knew what it felt like to eat government cheese that had been frozen,” Berneche said. “In this day and age, we are always looking for opportunities for disadvantaged children. I came from poverty, I’m in the upper middle class now. I pulled myself there through music.”
When she was finished speaking, Berneche stepped closer to the microphone and belted out a few notes of opera before the packed crowd. Many rose to their feet to cheer and clap, as they had at several speakers.
Superintendent Hardy Murphy echoed Board President Bailey’s message that the district was trying to avoid bigger cuts down the line.
“We’re trying to look way into the future, so we don’t find ourselves backed up against the wall, so we don’t have to make decisions that will be devastating to our students,” he said. “I only ask for your patience as we try to hammer out solutions.”
The board of education will discuss the proposed cuts at its next finance committee meeting, 6 p.m. Monday, June 11, at the , 1500 McDaniel Ave.
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