Out of options: Blount educators cite need for resources
By Matthew Stewart | http://thedailytimes.com
For the past five budget years, building-level administrators and staff members have worked to overcome Blount County Schools’ budget shortfalls through business and community partnerships, increased workloads and self-sacrifice.
Educators advise that they would struggle to continue meeting and exceeding academic goals without adequate human resources. If additional funds aren’t allocated to the school district, they will be asked to accomplish that feat, though.
“It’s remarkable what we’ve done with such limited resources,” said Friendsville Elementary School Principal Stan Painter. “However, we’re out of options at this point. My teachers will give me everything that they have next year, but we need some help ... we need help.”
Everett Learning Opportunity Center stands to lose one out of six teacher positions, said Principal Danny Galyon. ELOC was expected to lose two teacher positions at the previously proposed $79.9 million budget.
A staff reduction would significantly affect the district’s most at-risk students, Galyon said. “We truthfully need more resources to serve our kids. We want to help build them up, and it’s going to be more difficult with a 16.7 percent reduction in certified staff. We would go from maximizing the academic potential of every child to managing student behaviors.”
During the 2012-13 school year, 14 students earned their high school diplomas in the alternative program, said Dr. Jane Morton, supervisor of instruction for grades 6-12. The students wouldn’t have graduated without the program.
ELOC also stands to lose its suspension center, which serves middle- and high-schoolers who are placed on short-term suspension, Galyon said. School officials have traditionally allowed those students to attend the alternative school.
The school district might be required to create a waiting list for the program, as well, he said. ELOC hasn’t used a waiting list for several years.
“It’s going to impact our schools and students,” Galyon said. “We want to serve every child, because it’s an invaluable service to them and their families. No one wants to lessen their chances of earning a diploma.”
Fairview Elementary School stands to lose two teacher positions, said Principal Greg England. Administrators will consider rearranging K-3 teacher positions, which could impact the kindergarten and third grade programs.
The principal is concerned about the staff reduction because Foothills Village, a 90-unit apartment complex on Morganton Road, will open this summer. The complex, which is composed of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, is located within the school’s zone.
“We could have more kids move into our zone,” England said. “If that happens, it could certainly push us over the edge. We might need additional teachers to stay in (state) compliance.”
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, he said. Teaching assistants provide Response to Intervention (RTI) and work in K-2 classrooms.
If regular education transportation is reduced by five days, it would further impact the program, England said. “Our kids are predominately bus riders. If the buses don’t run, they won’t be able to get here.”
Between 30 percent and 50 percent of students wouldn’t be able to make other travel arrangements, he said. Educators would need to determine the best way to provide instruction on those five days.
Fairview Elementary and other county schools would consider condensing five days worth of instruction into four days in an effort to ensure students didn’t miss any material, according to building-level administrators. If schools selected this option, educators would provide enrichment and remediation opportunities for any student who came to school on the fifth day.
“We’ve got hard workers, and they won’t back down,” England said. “They will work to provide a high-quality education. That’s what they do.”
Staff members are working with the Fairview Family Team to raise funds for Apple iPads and interactive whiteboards, he said. They plan to furnish each classroom with the technology within the next two years.
Mountain Laurel Garden Club has partnered with the school, as well. Club members beautify the campus and teach students with gardening. Fairview was recently nominated for a BRAVO! Award.
Friendsville Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, Painter said. However, the school has eliminated positions in the past three fiscal years.
“We’re already feeling the impact,” he said. “We’re stretched really thin right now. If we lose more positions, we’ll have to think outside the box.”
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, Painter said. Teaching assistants provide RTI and work in classrooms.
“We’ve been working hard to enhance our programs,” he said. “We’ve especially tried to bring our technology up to par with the newer schools.”
During the past three years, Friendsville Elementary School’s Booster Club raised about $20,000 through various fundraising activities, Painter said. They’ve earmarked the funds for technology, such as interactive whiteboards.
School officials have used Blount County Education Foundation minigrants to purchase technology and the Wilson Reading System, he said. Tennessee Marble Co.’s donations also helped purchase the Wilson Reading System.
Friendsville Elementary further received a $5,000 private corporate donation, which it used to purchase Apple iPads and document cameras, Painter said. Businesses and private individuals also serve as classroom sponsors.
“We’ve supplemented our budget,” Painter said. “We’ve got out there and beat the bushes for our kids.”
The school still has needs, though, he said. They have one computer lab, which has 24 computers. Educators will need to test about 120 students for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) online tests in 2014-15.
Friendsville Elementary also has a limited supply of classroom computers, Painter said. The school has about one working computer in each classroom, in addition to more than 5-year-old computers in its library.
Heritage Middle School stands to lose two teacher positions, said Principal Steve Moser. Administrators will probably eliminate one self-contained classroom teacher and one core academic teacher.
The school also stands to lose its part-time administrator position, Moser said. Jed West, who was recently appointed as Walland Elementary School’s principal, was serving in the position.
“We’ve been asking several years for an additional administrator,” he said. “We’re a large school, which means we’ve got a lot of evaluations, IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, and class meetings. However, we’ll have to make do. It’s going to be the ‘Steve and (Assistant Principal) Amber (Williams) Show’ again.”
The school, which had 872 students this year, forecasts 860 students next year, Moser said. “We’re anticipating several large classes, so we’re still looking at several different scheduling options.”
Eight portable classrooms are currently located on campus, he said. Seven out of eight classrooms are used for instruction.
The sixth grade computer lab is being used as a classroom, Moser said. The school has one laptop cart and two computer labs, which are close to PARCC compatibility. One lab is composed of surplus Webb School of Knoxville computers.
School officials have used Blount County Education Foundation minigrants and other revenue sources to purchase teacher desktops, Moser said. They’ve also purchased netbooks and wireless access points.
Corporate sponsors, including Vulcan Materials Co. and West Chevrolet, have supported Heritage Middle School in the past several years, he said. Alcoa-Maryville Church of God sponsors its Second Harvest Food Bank backpack program.
Parents have also supported the school and its athletic department, Moser said. One private donor bought uniforms for the cross country team.
Heritage High School stands to lose three teacher positions, said Principal Earl McMahan. Administrators were asked to eliminate a combination of core academic and career and technical education (CTE) programs. They have drafted several contingency plans but declined to publicly disclose them.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, such as credit recovery, inclusion, and RTI, McMahan said. “It would drastically reduce those services.”
A staff reduction’s impact can’t be overstated, he said. “We’re going to lose quality educators who are dedicating their lives to young people. It’s also going to increase our class sizes and limit class offerings for our students.”
The loss of five regular education transportation days would also impact Heritage High, McMahan said. “We would expect to see a rise in absenteeism, which would make it very hard for our educators. We fight a lot of things anyway.”
The school has primarily 3- to 5-year-old computers, but it’s got a large number of machines that are even older, he said. “We need more and newer machines. Once we get them, we’ll be ready for PARCC. We already have the infrastructure to handle it.”
Staff members will work to overcome current and upcoming challenges, McMahan said. “I have great faith in my teachers and support staff, but it’s going to be more difficult without these resources.”
Lanier Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, said Principal Teresa Robinson. However, system-level administrators have asked her to refrain from filling vacant positions at this time.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, Robinson said. Teaching assistants provide RTI and work in classrooms.
Lanier Elementary provides its 21 classroom teachers with a teaching assistant, she said. Any reduction would hinder this initiative.
Educators are already working to overcome challenges, Robinson said. The school still has chalkboards in 19 out of 21 classrooms. Every teacher has a projector, though.
Lanier Elementary has one computer lab, which is composed of 3-year-old machines, she said. The rest of computers are donations.
The school also doesn’t have a parent teacher organization, Robinson said. Springview Baptist Church serves as its sponsor, providing financial and in-kind services.
Officials recently established a Facebook page, Friends of Lanier Elementary School, that solicits help in locating limited school resources, she said. Community members are donating the items.
Fundraiser proceeds are almost exclusively used to pay for copier services, Robinson said. “We’ve had to make do, but we’re getting close to state class size limits. We need some help.”