Last week’s blog focused on the budget dilemma faced by all school districts in North Carolina and, in particular, New Hanover County Schools. This week’s blog will address the decision-making process and struggles at the school level as they try to do more with less.
As early as August 2010, the Board of Education was working on the best way to address the budget reductions that would be required for the 2011-12 school year. At a Board Work Session in September, three criteria to guide the system were developed as it faced a potential 14% reduction in funding. They were:
1. Alignment of programs and services with the mission and objectives of the school system;
2. Program cost effectiveness; and
3. Efficiency in facility, transportation and utilization.
Using these criteria as guidelines, principals and other system administrators began the difficult task of determining where budget cuts could be made at each school and within each department. Given the depth of previous reductions and the scope of this year’s cuts, there is no way to avoid a major impact on what happens in the classroom.
An example of the cuts recommended by the principal at one school is illustrative of the decisions all our schools face. Using the criteria established by the Board of Education, the principal determines that the core academic programs of reading/language arts, mathematics, science and socials studies must be preserved as essential to the mission and objectives of the school. However, that also meant in terms of program cost effectiveness that other academic areas such as the arts, PE, and career and technical education must be reviewed. This could mean that some classes are combined or that class sizes increase dramatically. There is the potential that some elective courses would have to be eliminated.
Some would argue why not cut supplies or textbooks or non-personnel cost? The answer would be that we have already. The state has reduced our supply funds for the last two years. They have not provided textbook monies for the last two years and have reduced other support funds as well. For those at the schools, there are few choices left that are not personnel related. 85% of the educational budget is personnel and any significant cut will impact those people.
At the central office level there are those same difficult choices. There have been significant reductions to staff at this level over the last two years and there likely will be more this year. Departments are prioritizing their services and looking for efficiencies. A district that employs more than 3,600 people, educates 25,000 students and maintains nearly 50 separate buildings requires a dedicated staff to ensure ever limited resources are being used as efficiently as possible. We have that dedicated staff, but they are being stretched thin and potentially will have to be stretched even more next school year.
While the intent is to protect the classroom as much as possible, not all cuts can come from the administrative side. The cuts are just too large in nature. Even if the entire central office were eliminated, that would not come close to addressing the projected shortfall.
While this is a tough process for school and district administrators, it has forced us to examine all of our programs and evaluate their effectiveness. The impacts of these cuts have yet to be felt. However, during the upcoming school year, it is imperative that parents and citizens remember these cuts are not arbitrary, but instead, are the results of a thoughtful, deliberative and planned decision-making process.