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Budget Cuts Mean Changes at City High
The $3.6 million in cuts to class offerings and teacher positions will impact the district
June 3, 2014
Class Sizes Increase in the 2014-2015 School Year
With the overwhelming majority of the ICCSD’s annual budget going towards salaries of staff, when the District’s budget cuts were announced on April eighth it was clear that some cuts to staffing would have to be made.
“As someone that was a classroom teacher myself I understand that class size is a very important consideration.” Principal John Bacon said. “Something we pride ourselves on is being able to provide students with individual support that they need.”
The ICCSD”s budget cuts require both City High and West High to reduce their staffing by the equivalent of six and a half full-time positions. These cuts will be achieved through attrition, where teachers who retire are not replaced, instead of by layoffs.
“The good news is that the district made the decision to make this reduction without laying anybody off.” Bacon said. “None of these people are losing their jobs.”
The cuts will spread throughout all departments of City High equally, with reductions in the Language Arts, Math, Science, and World Language departments, as well as the loss of one teacher-librarian and Dean of Students position.
“It was an exhausting, extensive process to go through every single course in the building and look where there are opportunities to get by with one less section.” Bacon said. “You look for the best opportunities, where you can most afford to trim a section, and that’s what we did.”
The ICCSD recommends that class sizes have between 24 and 32 students. Currently, City High’s classes have student numbers in the upper 20’s. These cuts will push that number closer to the upper limit, which may give an added challenge to City High’s teachers.
“It makes it easier for some students to fall through the cracks.” City High Spanish teacher Kapra Hefley said. “If somebody’s sitting there really quiet and not causing a problem but not participating, when you have a class of 32, it’s easy to miss those kids.”
Hefley makes a point to talk to each of her students and make eye contact in an effort to work against the challenges of a larger class size. She also updates grades weekly and sometimes daily to help her students stay caught up.
“Especially in a language when you need to try to get around to everybody to see that they can learn how to speak and practice speaking,” Hefley said. “I don’t get to have as much one on one experience or one on one contact with the student when the classes are large.”
Claire Rutherford, ‘16, also sees complications with the class size increasing.
“When teachers have a smaller group of kids to work with they can teach more personally to them so they can help them learn better.” she said. “When it’s a bigger class it’s just harder to make sure they understand it well.”
With new schools coming online in the next few years, cuts had to be made to leave money in the budget to staff the new schools.
“We just had to meet as an administrative team and just come up with a plan that we thought we could work with, and that’s what we’ve done.” Bacon said.
Orchestra Program to Take a Hit
The ICCSD proposed budget cuts of $440,000 to the elementary orchestra program, unveiled on April 8th, triggered an upset in the orchestra community at City High.
“I think that we need to re-organize and reprioritize what programs we’re actually cutting,” Emma Arp ‘17 said of the proposal. “I just think that there are a lot of kids that are really interested in music and don’t have the chances to do it except for school. It seems kind of hard to take it away from them.”
Arp, who began taking orchestra in 4th grade at Lucas Elementary, believes that orchestra helped her discover her passion for music.
“Music is really important for Iowa City and it just is really important for me too,” Arp said. “I want to to incorporate music in my life later on, and having orchestra was a huge part of that.”
Stephen Murley, ICCSD Superintendent, acknowledges student’s concern about music.
“This is obviously a position the district never wants to be in,” Murley said. “Reducing programs or increasing class sizes, those are not good choices that you have to make.”
While he realizes the budget cuts will have a negative impact, Murley believes this is the only step the district can take.
“What I shared with people is that regardless of where you look in the district, we don’t have any extra programs.” Murley said. “There’s no fluff in the system, and in every program you look at, again going back to the elementary level, whether it’s our teacher librarians or our guidance counselors or the larger class sizes at the grade levels 3-6, or our instrumental program for 4th graders in orchestra. Those are all valuable programs, students benefit from them and they provide a richer learning environment for everybody: students, staff and community. And every one of those reductions winds up coming with a cost.”
Megan Stucky, conductor of City High’s two orchestras, feels that these cuts to 4th grade orchestra are worth much more than the money they require.
“We could change from being one of the best programs in the state to just being another program,” she said. “I think that you’re going to see a drastic change in quality as a delayed beginning of orchestra begins to filter up. We’re going to have less difficult repertoire that we’re going to be able to do, and we’re going to have struggles all around, due to that delay.”
Stucky also believes that the music is important due to the ways it impacts students in other areas of school, which she exemplified in Kwasi Enin, a Long Island senior who has been in the spotlight for being accepted into all eight elite Ivy League schools based in part off of his personal essay about his experiences with orchestra.
“It was about his viola, and about what music taught him in order to achieve,” Stucky said of his admissions letter. “It taught him a different way of thinking, it taught him how to approach scientific problems, math problems in a different way because he had a music education… And every time a student learns music, they’re making connections to math and to science and to english and to history… They use every part of their brain every time they pick up their instrument.”
Although the changes aren’t permanent, Mrs. Stucky hopes that soon parents and students both will see the value in keeping the program extended to fourth graders, and trying to influence the school board in favor of taking it off the chopping block.
“It’s important that the community and the parents and the students voice their opinion on what this program means to them,” she said. “Whether it’s from a student perspective, a parental perspective or a community perspective, on this thriving program and how changing it is going to change the course of the program’s survival.”
School District says “Auf Wiedersehen” to German Classes
Learning and speaking the language of his forefathers, Max Fritton ‘16, is able to experience his ancestor’s German culture firsthand at City High. Studying the language since junior high, its been one of the highlights of his education. Unfortunately for other German Americans, they might not be able to get that chance in upcoming years.
This past April, the school board announced that the budget for next year would experience a shortfall, and that several programs would have to be cut, including the German language class. One of the three languages offered at City High, German has remained in the curriculum since City High’s founding. The decision was voted on by the secondary administration, citing an enrollment problem with German classes.
“The size didn’t compare well with the other language classes,” Ann Feldman, the vice superintendent who participated in voting, said on the decision. “It didn’t fit the goalpost.” The goal post is a term to describe the enrollment goal for the classes, a range of 24-32 students per class, which German has failed to do in both the junior highs and high schools. “Nobody wanted to cut theses classes, Feldman said. “But decisions have to be made.”
German students in response to the announcements have organized City High’s Save Iowa City German attending school board meetings meetings and speaking directly with legislatures. Max Fritton, ‘16, a German student and active member of the Save Iowa City German explained his opinions on the cut. “The kids who take German, want to take German,” Fritton said. “ This isn’t just a college requirement to us.”
Meeting every Thursday since the announcement, the group is dedicated to keeping German alive at City High and other schools in ICCSD district, creating a t-shirt design and facebook page for local support from the community.
German, if cut, would be phased out of the schools, meaning that it would slowly be taken out the curriculum starting with the German 1 classes. Students taking German now in the high schools will be able to finish their German education, however each year the next level of German would be cut, meaning that the German program will be eliminated by 2017. Seventh graders taking German will be contacted and have the chance to switch to the other foreign languages, French and Spanish, to catch up for next year.
The cut will save $200,000, allowing an increase in growth to help compensate for the $3.6 million debt. Tuyet Dorau commented that the board has not voted on any final action on the cuts. “The cuts are still enacted by the administration,” Dorau said. “At any time the board can re-evaluate those cuts.” As it stands, German will be cut for next with adjustments being made to all schools in the ICCSD district. “People will be disappointed,” Dorau said. “We’re need to change our spending habits, and there will be cuts.”