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School board now takes up spending plan that calls for cutting 24 teachers to help balance books

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Teachers continued to protest staff cuts at the May 17 Reynolds Budget Committee meeting. The school board will take up the budget at its next meeting on Wednesday, June 17. The Reynolds Budget Committee passed a controversial district budget at a meeting Thursday night with the caveat that at the next step, the school board should try to find other savings to avoid cutting staff positions next year.

The Reynolds district, facing a $2.7 million shortfall in the 2018-19 school year, proposed closing part of that gap by cutting 24 teaching positions, which drew spirited and emotional protests from teachers, parents and students at recent school board and budget meetings.

Three committee members voted against sending the proposed budget to the school board at the May 17, meeting. The board's consideration of the spending plan is the next step in the budget process. Budget Committee members Matthew Craven, April Curtis and Diego Hernandez, who is also a school board member, voted no.

Thursday was the commitee's third four-hour meeting. Educators again implored the committee to save teaching positions to keep class sizes from ballooning.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Kelly Goforth, a counselor at Reynolds Middle School, told the Reynolds Budget Committee that the increase in class size will have a significant, negative impact on those relationships that weve worked so hard to foster. Kelly Goforth, a counselor at Reynolds Middle School, suggested furlough days for teachers — and so-called licensed staff like her — to save money.

"The current budget proposal focuses on quantity of school days over the quality of education," she said. "In a class of 35, relationships are limited. Attention-seeking behaviors increase."

Aimee Edwards, a kindergarten teacher at Alder Elementary School, explained how layoffs and reshuffling teachers harm students, noting that some children in her school have had seven teachers by fourth grade.

The school board is scheduled to take up the budget at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at Fairview City Hall, 1300 N.E. Village St.

Reynolds budget woes can be traced to rising labor costs, especially the district's contribution to state pension costs, plus declining enrollment, which reduces the amount the district gets from the state. State allocations are not keeping pace with district costs. Enrollment in the Reynolds district has declined about 830 students from the 2014-15 school year to the current 9,949 students.

Some teachers, committee members and others supported cutting administrative positions, delaying purchase of reading and science materials or drawing down reserves and contingency funds among other possible reductions.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Educators say larger class sizes will be bad for students if the district cuts 24 teachers to balance the budget in the 2018-19 school year. The budget proposed by Superintendent Linda Florence called for cutting 10 elementary positions, 10 middle school positions and four high school educators. One administrator will become a grant-funded position. With retirements and teachers leaving for other reasons, staff layoffs are unlikely, but teachers fear class sizes will grow.

Budget Committee member Craven urged the group to "hold the district leaders accountable," to cheers from the mostly educator audience. He called the public hearings "dog and pony shows" and charged that the community has no real say in the development of the school district budget.

Committee member Gene Bendt said the budget as proposed "to me is an unfair burden to teachers" and suggested cutting administrators in the same proportion as teachers.

This will be the third consecutive year the Reynolds district has cut days, programs or positions. Last year Reynolds shortened the school year by five days, among other cuts.

The $125 million bond Reynolds district voters passed in 2015 cannot be used for teacher or staff salaries or other school operating expenses like books but only for building and plant improvements.

Many school districts continue to face tough budgets. Nearby Centennial School District projected a $1.2 million shortfall and proposed cutting as many as four school days, among other adjustments.

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