With the proposed budget cuts taking place at the state level for the 2015-2016 school year, East teachers and board members say that SMSD students will face a changing school environment as a result of the funding situation.
Linda Sieck, current Spanish teacher, and next years’ National Education Association Shawnee Mission President says that students at East will likely feel the effects of state budget cuts in the classroom. According to Sieck, with more students in classes, less teachers in the building and faculty teaching six hours a day, the cuts are causing major concerns for educators about the quality of education their students will receive.
“[The] biggest concern I’ve heard teachers vocalize [for next year] is ‘I am not able to do what is best for my students,” Sieck said. “There are just not enough hours in the day for me to plan the kind of lessons that I want to do, to incorporate technology fully or to get papers back as quickly as I want without sacrificing something else.”
This winter, educators were informed that they would be required to teach up to six hours a day, compared to the normal five hours they teach now. In light of proposed education cuts, the district wanted to maximize efficiency. For every five teachers that pick up an extra hour, one staff position is no longer needed.
At the same time an early-retirement plan was offered for staff members to provide incentive for eligible teachers to retire, saving an estimated $18,000 per employee, Deputy Superintendent of Communications Leigh Ann Neil told the Kansas City Star.
This year, the district will see 10 percent of its employees retire, largely influenced by the early-retirement plan, according to Sieck. One-hundred and eighty teachers and 20 administrators are leaving the district this year, as opposed to the usual estimate of 80 personnel that typically retire from the district. These retirements save the district funds, as not all of these positions will be replaced.
At East, Associate Principal Jeremy Higgins projects that 11 teachers will leave the building. He estimates that three of those positions will probably not be re-hired.
According to East area school board member Donna Bysfield, the early retirement plan and the increase in teaching time for teachers were measures taken in order to keep the district from having to make more drastic cuts, like laying-off faculty, or cutting programming such as Fine Arts.
“All of those are pieces [the district] is working on to keep the budget as healthy as we can for the education of the students,” Bysfield said. “I know that people have been concerned about cutting programs but as I am aware nothing is going to be cut besides studyhall.”
Although the school saved money from offering the early-retirement package to eligible faculty, Sieck says there are now fewer teachers for more students, only adding to the effects of a heavier workload. The extra hour adds 24-30 more students which slows down the time it takes to grade, record and input papers on Skyward, taking longer for teachers to give feedback and seriously cutting into their personal time at home.
Senior Advanced Placement (AP) English teacher Vicki Tucker says the effects of these budgets cuts will be most noticeable when it comes to assignments like senior research papers and AP test prep.
“Writing cannot be taught simply by making an assignment and moving on,” Tucker said. “Spending personal time with each student is what needs to be done, and the more students you put in a classroom basically dilutes what a student can learn because the teacher cannot physically and emotionally keep delivering to more and more students daily on the same level.”
Tucker says that she will likely have to cut the number of novels that students read for the course, as well as many of her favorite writing assignments, in order to keep up with the increase in students.
Tucker, who teaches both freshman English and senior English classes will experience increases in all aspects of her courses. In addition to an already increasing number of students, next years’ incoming class of freshman is one of the largest East has seen in eight years, Counselor Coordinator Deanna Griffey says. The class of 480 will add over 100 more students to the East population.
The cuts for next year are not just a concern to teachers, the counseling center will also feel the effects of both the staff cuts and the large class size of incoming freshman, according to Griffey. All counselors will be taking on 50-60 more cases between the increase in enrollment and the loss of a counselor position.
Griffey and Sieck agree that seniors will feel the effects of the counseling center changes most heavily, as they rely on the counseling center for resources such as transcripts, recommendation letters and college counseling throughout the year. Seniors may experience a harder time scheduling appointments with their counselor, or may have to plan for appointments farther in advance. Additionally counselors will likely take more work home with them than in years past.
According to Griffey, the counselors are struggling to brainstorm on how to accommodate all of next years’ changes with only four counselors to serve an estimated 1,700 students for the 2015-2016 school year.
“Our caseloads will be bigger and we have duties outside of counseling with students — so our concern is how do we make those fit?,” Griffey said. “Its harder to take work home, so us trying to cram it into the time we have here, thats where we will struggle. We are worried.”
On the other end of the spectrum, teachers like Tucker who have in the past been able to write many recommendations for seniors on their own time, are now looking to scheduling only a small amount on a first come first serve basis.
Bysfield emphasizes that while the official 2015-2016 budget will not be approved by legislators and the district until April 22 when the legislature receives state revenue reports, the effects that students feel will be the result of the district attempting to create a best-case scenario. She notes that from the funds saved with the early-retirement package, the district may actually emerge relatively unscathed from the state cuts.
“We are saving money and we are actually going to be in better shape,” Bysfield said. “[This district has] tried to look at every possible way to be efficient without losing the quality of education. It is difficult because we are a big business, and business side of it doesn’t have the ability to be as compassionate as education wants to be.”
But teachers like Sieck and Tucker are continuing to worry about how to fit everything into one day, while still keeping their courses interesting and enriching — not just giving out worksheets and sending kids onto their laptops for a whole class period. These activities, Sieck said, are often easy, but not effective lesson replacements when short on plan time.
“I think the bottom line is that we’re not machines,” Sieck said. “If you just want everything to be multiple choice or scantron, that would be do-able, but most teachers want to give more than just a pen and pencil test to show what you know.”
With work encroaching on their personal time more and more with the cuts in work-day planning time, Sieck says it is ultimately the students that will suffer.
“I always say teacher working conditions are student learning conditions,” Sieck said. “If your teachers are stressed and they are overburdened, then that is going to reflect in the classroom.”