Carson City School Board hears opposition to school cuts

Teacher Judy Rand brought the journal of one of her "buttons" " a term she uses for her kindergarten students " to the Carson City School Board on Tuesday.

She showed a picture the student drew of his house on the first day of school. The letter "M" to represent "my house" was written on the page. She concluded by showing the boy's recent drawing of a child on a bike and a school.

Beneath the picture was written, "One day I rode my bike to school."

"Can you see the writing?" she asked. "It's on the lines and beautifully written. This is just one little button; the stories go on."

She brought the journal to persuade the school district not to cut aides from the kindergarten classrooms.

"Kindergarten is not what it used to be," she said. "It is much more academic. Our job is to take 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds from not being able to identify a letter or its sound to reading stories. We need our aides to continue to do this."

Looking at budget cuts of up to $7.2 million, the district first proposed closing a school because of dropping student enrollment. Students, teachers and parents protested through a series of meetings and comments on the district's Web site.

Superintendent Richard Stokes presented an alternate plan on Tuesday that included laying off 56 of the approximately 898 employees of the school district.

Nearly 120 people showed up to protest that plan as well during two hours of public comment.

Another aspect of that plan is to change Fremont Elementary School's year-round calendar to a traditional schedule.

Paul Brugger, whose seven children attended Fremont, said this is not the first time district officials have tried to change the school's schedule, and he doubted their motives.

"Do cost savings have anything to do with the district's desire to change this school's schedule?" he asked. "Stand up for your constituency. Be a hero for the students at Fremont Elementary School."

Trustee Joe Enge said he called on district officials to provide a breakdown of the cost savings that would result from that change. He said he has not yet been provided that information.

"I stand with teachers and parents who opposed the schedule change," he said.

Stokes said the $23,000 estimated savings comes from transportation and nutrition services.

Additionally, Enge said, he opposes the procedure where district officials prepare a plan for budget cuts to be approved or voted down as a bundle. He argued trustees should be able to vote on the smaller details.

"We can't abdicate responsibility by laying it all on district administration," Enge said.

Trustee Joanna Wilson contradicted the assertion.

"We have not given over our responsibility," she said. "We have worked very hard with Mr. Stokes; it is his job."

In an emotional address to the board during which Stokes choked up, he asked the board whether he should continue building the budget according to plan.

"I'd hate to think we're at ground zero again," he said. "We're running out of time. I have four kids in the school district, and the last thing I want to do is take away from them opportunities and experiences, but I don't know what else to do with this short-term problem."

He said he wanted to notify staff of layoffs by May at the latest.

Trustee Norm Scoggin advised Stokes to continue, saying that if individual board members were to "cherry pick" items off the budget, they'd "be left with nothing."

Wilson called on the public to understand the predicament the board is in and to refrain from personal attacks. She pointed out that during the meeting, parents, students and teachers opposed cutting aides and programs, increasing walk zones, and changing school schedules.

"I understand your horror at this because we live with it every day," she said. "We have to cut somewhere. We have to make some tough decisions. We're up all night worrying about it."

More than 50 performing arts students from Carson High School also attended the board meeting, calling on trustees not to cut those programs.

"At a time when we're concerned about graduation rates and drop-out rates, we don't look at programs that are operating on a skeletal budget as a plan to cut," said Carson City Band Association President Jeff Cobb. "This is something you work very hard as a community to increase."

However, board president Barbara Howe said the band, choir and drama programs have not been considered for cuts.

- Contact reporter Teri Vance at tvan or 881-1272.


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