After facing more than $1 million in declining revenues and a need to minimize expenses, the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education approved several budget and staffing reductions on Monday.
“The bottom line is cash flow is difficult,” Superintendent Jason Alexander said. “In using the tracking tools that we’ve initiated, it’s at the lowest point that it’s been in several years.”
Alexander said that Beatrice Public Schools’ revenue is $1,116,001 less than it was this time last year, and that the district also spent $222,171 less than in April 2018.
He added the board has done to keep the cuts from affecting the classroom.
“However, we can’t continue to go into budget cycle after budget cycle with restricted revenue and unrestricted expense,” Alexander said. “Before we crack a book, before we open a door, before we turn on a light, 75 to 85 percent of our budget is out the door. It’s spent on personnel.”
Alexander said he’s had several discussions with the administration and board about recommended reductions, which include leaving the Compass Program at Educational Service Unit 5, revising the orchestra program, not filling a half-time special education teacher position at the high school, not filling two certified positions at the grade school level and eliminating an Energy Management position.
"We have two positions where through retirement we can eliminate one and reduce a section in our kindergarten class, and then the other one we would move [to the middle school],” Alexander said.
He said the number of middle school students is expected to be lower after the next school year, in which case the board can reevaluate and move the teacher back to the elementary school.
Board policy states that if there are 130 or more students enrolled in kindergarten, Lincoln and Paddock Lane Elementary schools have to offer seven sections. Alexander said enrollment is currently at 123, which is less than last year.
The reductions would cause there to be six kindergarten sections – removing one from Lincoln – which several board members were concerned about.
“The problem is if we approve this and then for some reason we get 135 students, we don’t have another section,” board member Doris Martin said. “I truly believe that those children are better served in smaller groups with a teacher. A person that’s qualified to identify reading problems, learning disabilities.”
With the current number of students enrolled, each section would have 20-21 students, which Assistant Superintendent Jackie Nielsen said is the average. Nielsen said that while enrollment can change over the summer, a decision needs to be made right now.
Kevin Janssen, the principal at Lincoln, agreed, saying parents need adequate time to know which school and kindergarten roundup their kids will be attending.
Nielsen said they are looking into taking paraprofessionals from programs at Paddock Lane and placing them in each kindergarten classroom.
“One of the reasons that we’re looking at this is because we know that in preschool, they have a teacher and two paras, one from Head Start and then one from Beatrice Public Schools,” Nielsen said. “This way, then, we continue to provide extra support for all of our students with that one additional person in the classroom, too. So we are looking at adding that support piece in there, as well.”
Martin said the schools have done that in the past.
“Paras do a wonderful job, but they don’t have the same level of training that a teacher does,” Martin said.
Nielsen said she has done research on what impacts student achievement, and found that teachers have a higher impact than class sizes.
“One of the things that we are also looking at this year that we are going through is the MTSS process, which is the multi-tiered systems of supports,” Nielsen said. “We are figuring out how can we work together to help every child, and how can we make sure that we provide more access to our kids through the use of our title teachers, our special education teachers, our all paras and all teachers working together to see where all of our students are at and where they need to go.”
She added the MTSS process would allow every child access to school resources.
“Currently, our title one kids don’t have access to any special education resources,” Nielsen said. “Our regular kids don’t have access to any title one or special education resources, and our special ed students have access to a lot of those pieces. So we are giving our kids more opportunities to have access to more teachers that maybe can provide different interventions for them, and to really help identify where they are and where they need to go.”