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District to vote on cuts

Parents are itching to know the verdict of the proposed five-day cut to the school calendar, and a final decision could be less than two weeks away, pending approval from both district employee groups.

"We've been getting a lot of phone calls from community members wanting to know when this decision is going to be made," Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told school board members Monday night at a meeting. She has held two meetings with the bargaining groups and another is planned for later this week, she said, adding that she would present the results to the board as soon as an agreement is reached.

In November, the district proposed eliminating the five-day week before spring break in the face of a $380,000 projected budget shortfall. The suggested cuts are expected to save $384,000, Di Chiro said.

The proposal submitted to the employee groups also included ways to build classroom days back into the school calendar, so that elementary students would miss just one day of instruction and high school students would miss two.

Elementary schools would cancel all three days of spring parent-teacher conferences, making them regular school days instead, and a day reserved for teacher training and development at all levels would be converted into a regular school day, as well, Di Chiro said.

Staff would still see a five-day pay cut, however.

Although students would miss relatively few days of class, the cuts would still have an impact, Di Chiro said.

"Cancelling conferences doesn't come easy; it is a very important time," she said. "We're going to have to depend on report cards and the normal communication teachers have with parents to track students' spring progress."

'Glimmer of hope'

Di Chiro said she sees "a glimmer of hope" from the state Legislature, because of a potential statewide stimulus package that could be used to support the district's construction projects.

Projects using stimulus package funds would need to provide public good and start almost immediately to provide jobs, Di Chiro said. Smaller construction projects the district was planning to put to bid later in the spring — such as roofing work and updates to the high school heating and cooling system — could be moved up in hopes of receiving state aid, Di Chiro said.

The funds are in no way guaranteed, but Di Chiro and Business Manager Jill Turner have identified any potential projects just in case they qualify.

Any money the district would receive could not be applied to the five-day cuts, but would allow the district to stretch its construction budget further and add back in some extra projects, such as "green" improvements.

Class-size studies

The school board also revisited a proposed class-size study group, which was postponed in October after it received just three applications for membership on the committee.

The board began recruiting members after receiving numerous complaints from parents about large elementary class sizes, but none of those parents applied to be on the committee, saying they were unhappy with the charge of the committee to find low-cost and budget-neutral solutions to lower student-teacher ratios. A solution required additional funding, the parents said.

In light of recent economic events, however, finding creative solutions without spending extra money "is more important than ever," Board Chair Mat Marr said.

But because of lack of interest, the board voted unanimously to table the idea until July, just before the new school year and when new budget figures are available.

"We didn't have enough people who volunteered to participate before, so it seems a little futile to try to start that process again," Board Member Heidi Parker said.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 of jfrench@dailytidings.com.