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Nathan Baker

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Support positions lost as schools trim budget

June 26th, 2014 9:14 pm by Nathan Baker

Support positions lost as schools trim budget

Athletic coaching supplements were narrowly spared from elimination during a Johnson City Schools budget meeting Tuesday morning, but other staffed positions weren’t as lucky.

Among the $1.6 million in cuts used to pare down the district’s $2.8 million deficit for the system’s budget proposal to the City Commission was $175,000 used to pay three salaries formerly funded by Safe Schools/Healthy Students grants as part of the HEROES Initiative.

The positions, a social worker and employability skills coach at the high school’s Alternative Center and a student support teacher who split her time between Indian Trail Intermediate and Liberty Bell Middle schools, were valuable assets to the schools, Board of Education members remarked Tuesday, but their loss allowed counselors and teachers to be spared.

“To a school, the need before HEROES was in place, and the difference it’s made for whole school climate, it’s probably one of the most important things that we’ve done,” board member Lottie Ryans said before the vote was held to pull the positions from the budget proposal.

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Richard Bales said Thursday the three support positions performed various outreach functions for students across the district.

The skills coach helps to prepare Alternative School students for the workforce after graduation, helping them to attain GEDs, build resumes, learn job interview etiquette and perform attendance intervention.

The social worker performed the functions of an outside social worker, but was available on site for students without needing a visit to a public office.

The support teacher in the middle and intermediate schools performed similar functions for younger students, mainly attendance intervention and help with home-based problems, Bales said.

“It’s additional support for students who likely have a number of obstacles against them already,” Bales said. “It’s support for students they don’t necessarily get at home.”

The three positions, along with a stable of mental health counselors and case managers, were part of a collaborative safety effort forged between the city schools, the Johnson City Police Department, Johnson City Juvenile Court and Frontier Health.

Most of its funding was delivered by a federal grant that expired last year, leaving the district to foot the bill.

With increasing costs from a number of no-longer-funded grants, Bales said the board was forced to make difficult decisions to make the money supplied by the city cover the district’s expenses.

Four full-time positions, identified by district administrators as needed, but not yet staffed, were cut.

So, too, was a proposal to raise a library media assistant at Indian Trail from part-time to full-time. A retired teacher is contracted for that position on an annual basis.

Bales said those cuts were easier for the board to make, because they weren’t taking away occupied jobs, but they still affected students’ classroom experiences.

Perhaps producing even more of an effect were the decisions to delay the purchase of new textbooks.

Last year, to balance the district’s budget, the board put off buying new social studies materials, as recommended by a purchasing schedule.

Then, the board members said they hoped the city would realize their sacrifices and find a way to help pay for the books this year, but they again found their way on the list of budget eliminations Tuesday.

A math textbook was also left out of the budget, leaving teachers without materials they need to align their lesson plans to new state standards.

“The PARCC test has been delayed by the state, but we’ve already implemented the new standards,” Bales said. “Without the books that are supposed to match the standards, the teachers will have to do the best they can with what they’ve got.”

The City Commission meets tonight for a third and final reading of the city budget.

If commissioners approve the current proposed budget, with a $500,000 increase to the schools over last year’s funding, the district will be forced to cut another $1.1 million to fill the remaining deficit.

With their request Tuesday, the school board hopes the city will provide additional funding to fill that gap.

“We’re hopeful we won’t have to change any other areas, so our students can stay at the same level of academics, art and athletics,” Bales said. “If the city doesn’t help us with our deficit, the board will have to meet to decide on what else to cut.”

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