Sunday, February 8, 2004

Teachers bemoan state school budget



By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

budget cuts
At Ludlow Elementary School, Jordan Turner, a second-grader, draws arms onto a figure while the class learns Spanish words. State money for such lessons may be cut.
(Patrick Reddy/The Cincinnati Enquirer)
ERLANGER - Every year, about 250 struggling students at Tichenor Middle School stay late to get extra help from teachers.

Next year, they may be out of luck.

Tutoring takes one of the biggest hits in the education budget proposed this month by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. He would cut by 50 percent - or about $16 million - the money districts receive for extended school services, which include summer school and before- and after-school learning.

Northern Kentucky educators are reeling. .

Those programs have been the single most successful aspect of education reform in Kentucky, says Tom Hummel, principal of Gray Middle School in Union, which serves about 50 students in summer school each year.

HIGHLIGHTS OF EDUCATION BUDGET

Key cuts

50 percent ($16 million) from tutoring and summer school for struggling students

94 percent ($3.2 million) from teaching training

11 percent ($3.2 million) from education technology

14 percent ($1.2 million) from expert assistance to schools with low test scores

Key additions

$2 million in new money for Reading to Achieve program

$21.7 million to resume regular replacement of textbooks. (This money was withheld last year.)

Source: Kentucky Governor's Office of State Budget Director

"I don't know who advised the governor with regard to that," Hummel said. "The extended school services is a direct impact on kids, and from my point of view as an instructional leader, kids come first."

Fletcher's education budget calls for spending about $3.48 billion in 2004-05.

On paper, that looks like an increase of about $20 million over the current school year. But rising costs for mandatory items such as teacher retirement payments will consume all of the $20 million and more.

The base money that each district receives per student would remain at this year's level of $3,191. But districts will likely have to use some of that money for a 1.5 percent teacher raise that will be required but not funded by the state.

Rising health insurance costs would be passed on to teachers, records show. For most teachers, the premium increase will be $50 to $70 a month, the Kentucky Education Association estimates.

That would wipe out the raise and even set teachers back a few dollars a month, which is especially bad news in Northern Kentucky.

Here, districts must compete with Ohio for teachers, and the pay difference between the two is stark.

Northern Kentucky teachers with master's degrees and 12 years' experience made an average of $37,645 in 2002, says the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services.

That compares to $51,334 in the 22 districts of Hamilton County.

"This 1.5 thing is kind of a slap in the face," said Bill Turner, a social studies teacher at Ryle High School.

He doesn't blame Fletcher, he says, because Kentucky's salary inequities have persisted for years.

"I think it hurts kids," Turner said. "Teachers have second jobs. Teachers are always struggling to stay above water, so to speak, or they just quit altogether."

Fletcher's budget does contain a few bright spots.

The governor's Reading to Achieve project, sponsored in part by Sen. Jack Westwood of Crescent Springs, would get $2 million in new money. It will give schools money to work with struggling readers at an early age.

The governor also would restore $21.7 million for new textbooks that had been cut from this year's budget. But those textbook funds are designated as flexible, meaning districts can use them for other things.

Ludlow schools Superintendent Elizabeth Grause predicts a lot of shuffling next year to try to protect programs.

She has cut a high school career-training program and a sixth-grade teacher this year, along with putting two elementary reading specialists back in general classrooms.

Now she may be forced to eliminate what she calls a "wonderful" program at Ludlow Elementary School. Through arts and humanities projects, teacher Rachel Iannitti introduces the children to foreign languages.

This year's state budget designated $500,000 for such programs. Fletcher's plan does away with it all.

E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com




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