Sunday, October 31, 2004

Staff-trimming always painful

Cincinnati not alone in cuts

By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati Schools are not alone in wrestling with how to cut budgets and reduce staff without hurting student achievement.

Covington Schools have been through it. The Middletown and Sycamore districts are going though it now.

Covington, which is losing enrollment and was running a deficit two years ago, shed 109 staff members.

"You're really torn," said Superintendent Jack Moreland. "Research will tell you that low class sizes make kids do better. But it's one of those things where you have to do what you have to do to balance the budget, in spite of the fact that you think it's not academically in the best interest of your student body."

The district cut the teaching staff at the high school level by about 25 percent. Some classes grew from about 18 to 28 students and high school test scores were almost flat this year. Moreland said he thinks the staff cuts had an impact.

Middletown schools have operated on fixed revenues for the last decade, but the district now is cutting positions and trying to find grants to pay for others to stave off a deficit. The district expects a $9.6 million deficit in 2006 if a district levy expires in 2005, said district spokeswoman Debbie Alberico.

In the past three years, the district has cut about 110 positions from the general fund budget by reducing staff, closing buildings or finding grants to pay for staff instead, she said.

Sycamore school officials are worried that additional cuts to the district's budget could threaten its "excellent" rating on the state report card. That's the highest rating the state gives.

Sycamore voters rejected an operating levy in August. The district has already made $6.1 million in cuts, including reductions in administrative, teaching and support staff.

The district has another levy on Tuesday's ballot, but officials say they will cut an additional $2.2 million even if the levy passes. If the levy fails, they will have to cut another $4.1 million, said Jennifer Manoukian, the secondary curriculum coordinator.

"We have intentionally set our class size low," Manoukian said. "Over decades of time, we have said that if you give kids the very best teachers in the very best instructional setting, then they will learn and they will excel. Our results have borne that out."

Maintaining smaller class sizes while also making budget cuts isn't easy, she said.

"Even with the reductions, we're trying to keep classes reasonable to maximize instruction," Manoukian said. "But that's a very tenuous balance."


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