York parents to protest $1.9 million in school cuts

news@enquirerherald.comMay 9, 2013 

— A group of parents who oppose $1.9 million in planned York school district budget cuts that would be implemented in the fall say they will ask the school board Tuesday to reconsider its decision.

About 35 parents who have organized as the York Parent Coalition gathered Monday evening at Central Baptist Church in York to discuss plans to address the board. The group is scheduled to speak to the board 7 p.m. Tuesday in the York Comprehensive High School auditorium.

“As parents, we’re going to have to make a stand to make a difference,” said organizer Alicia Bolin, a parent and a substitute teacher at York’s Hunter Street Elementary School.

Bolin urged the group of parents to bring their children and show up at Tuesday’s school board meeting wearing red “to let them hear what our concerns are.” She also urged them to contact board members.

State Rep. Tommy Pope, who spoke to the group for about 10 minutes, acknowledged that state funding for schools has been a problem, but he said the York school budget cut issue is a local one.

He urged the parents – many of whom said they felt shut out of the school district’s decision-making process – to reach out to school board members. “You need to feel like you’re hearing from them,” he said.

Pope asked how many had already done so and about half a dozen parents raised their hands. He asked what response they had received, and parents shook their heads. “Nothing,” one parent said.

The York school board in February approved a plan to cut 22 positions and reduce the number of work days for some administrators and staff to cut about $1.9 million in costs for the coming school year.

The cuts at the elementary school level include two art and music teaching positions, five in-school suspension assistants, five media assistants and two instructional coaches. Hunter Street and Jefferson elementary schools will share art and media teachers, under the plan, which is being done at Cotton Belt and H.C. Johnson elementaries.

Cuts at the middle and high school level include an instructional coach, two teacher assistants, a high school administrator, guidance counselor, media specialist and an ROTC position. Part-time French and masonry teaching positions also would be eliminated.

About 20 other staff members, including some administrators and guidance counselors, would have fewer contracted work days.

Carrie Kimbrell, another Hunter Street parent organizer, told parents that the in-school suspension program is “extremely critical” to remove disruptive children from the classroom.

The loss of media assistants at elementary schools, Kimbrell said, would mean “dramatic cuts in the technology usage within the schools.”

Superintendent Vernon Prosser has said the cuts are necessary because the York district has for three years balanced its budget by drawing from a shrinking reserve fund – a practice he said can’t continue.

Bolin and other parents complained that Prosser and school board members have been unresponsive to their concerns. Bolin said she has filed a Freedom of Information request to get specific budget information and had to fill out a request to address the board.

She said the information she requested includes the number and placement of retired teachers who are “at-will” employees and the number of and salary level of district-level administrators. She questioned if the district could save money in those positions.

Prosser said Tuesday that he and finance director Amy Hagner met for several hours with Bolin and Kimbrell a few weeks ago. He said he has two lengthy telephone follow-up conversations with Bolin, and that he is gathering information in response to the FOI request she submitted.

“I have tried to bend over backwards to talk to them and give them what they want,” Prosser said. He said he would be happy to meet with the parent group. “I would be willing to talk to the group, whatever they need.”

He said people who want to address the board are asked to fill out a form, but “typically no one has been denied.” He said the form is requested because many concerns can be resolved without going to the board.

York school board chairman Shirley Harris could not be reached Tuesday.

Pope told parents that if they can propose a “reasonable alternative” to the planned budget cuts, the board may be more willing to listen. Bolin agreed, saying parents are working on that.

“Out standpoint is they can pick a different way to fix the budget, and it doesn’t have to be that we have to gut these critical programs,” Bolin said. “We want them to listen to us.”

Staci Versen-Rampey, a Hunter Street parent, said she sent an email to school board members through Prosser’s assistant last week and did not receive a response. “It seems like they’re not even giving us an opportunity to come up with a reasonable alternative,” she said of the board.

Prosser said he would be willing to listen to proposed alternatives from parents, but he said the cuts are not optional. “I don’t have a choice,” he said of the cuts. “If I had a choice, I would do it differently.

“I would entertain a proposal,” Prosser said about the parent group, “but the dollars are the dollars and that’s what we’re down to now. If there was another way to solve it, we would.”

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