Budget cuts headed toward Cedar Rapids middle schools

Number of class periods to be increased

During a Dec. 9 meeting, Executive Director of Business Services Steve Graham told the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s school board members that the district would need to shrink its 2015 fiscal year budget.

On Jan. 15, administrators shared one potential method.

A budget cut by way of a scheduling shuffle is on the way for the district's middle schools.

Superintendent Dave Benson sent an email to instructors at the district’s six middle school buildings on Wednesday to notify them of a plan to move Harding, Taft, McKinley and Roosevelt middle schools to an eight period daily schedule beginning with the 2014-15 school year. Those buildings have seven periods each day, while Wilson and Franklin have eight.

Taft, Harding, McKinley and Roosevelt staff have two daily prep periods. That would be reduced to one and result in fewer instructors teaching more sections, which is expected to translate to budget savings.

Val Dolezal, the district’s executive director of prekindergarten through eighth grade, said the specific financial impact is still unknown as is the amount of positions eliminated and where.

“We start the staffing process in February,” she said. “I and other district staff will work with buildings to look at what are the needs, how the school lays out with current staff (and) what changes need to be made. … It will be a lengthy process.”

Dolezal said that Cedar Rapids school board members were notified of the change but the plan is not subject to their approval now.

“It’s an administrative decision and not a board policy decision at this point,” she said.

Dolezal pointed out, as did Benson in his email, that administrators expect the cost reduction to have an upside beyond the financial bottom line.

“The great thing is, it’s a very positive impact. We will not be cutting any programs, which is a main goal. We will be providing more support to students who need instructional support and we will also be consistent in the district across our six middle schools,” she said. “It allows for more intervention time or enrichment time for the kids that are either struggling or doing the expected skill and we want to enrich that learning.”

The superintendent’s email also included information about how the new schedule will aid offering foreign-language programming at the middle schools in the future.

Sue Clapp, president of the Cedar Rapids Education Association, said that instructors have reached out to express concerns about the new plan.

“It’s a little bit unsettling to not know what the schedule looks like or what your job assignment will be,” Clapp said when asked to characterize those fears.

She also mentioned that some teachers are worried that the lost prep time would mean fewer opportunities to collaborate with their building colleagues and discuss student issues, but Dolezal maintained that administrators will work with staff to ensure those exchanges still occur.

“We’ve been doing team planning at the elementary and high school level this year, at the high school level even more, and it has been working fine with the single prep period,” she said.

In the past, the district has been able to reduce positions without eliminating staff and Clapp is hopeful that will once again be the case. She said she anticipates a large amount of retirees this year and, because so many middle-school instructors have certification beyond their current grades, there will be room within other buildings for teachers.

“Because we have a district this size, we have the flexibility of having openings at either the high school or elementary levels that would be suitable placements for middle-school teachers who have to be displaced from their current areas,” she said. “The good news is that we can feel pretty confident that they will have a teaching placement if they choose to stay with our district.”

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