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Superintendent decries difficult but necessary reductions, teachers worry about student impact

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CENTENNIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT - Paul Coakley, Superintendent, Centennial School District, calls budget cuts unacceptable. The Centennial School District Board, facing a $1.2 million financial shortfall, passed its 2018-19 district budget, which calls for cutting school days and some staff reductions.

Several educators testified at the school board meeting that cutting staff would harm students, with particularly emotional and powerful testimony from Chris O'Connor, who will be the only counselor for about 1,000 students at Centennial Middle School.

"Our mental health needs are skyrocketing at the middle school," she said tearfully.

The recommended ratio nationally is 250 students per each counselor.

"Absolutely none of these reductions are acceptable," Superintendent Paul Coakley said at the Wednesday, June 6, board meeting when the budget was passed.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Chris OConnor, who will be the only counselor at Centennial Middle School, shared powerful testimony at a recent school board meeting urging the board to fund a second couseling position. O'Connor said she understands "there are no easy cut and dried solutions" to the budget shortfall, but added "we need to find a way" to fund a second counseling position at the middle school, which was in the process of hiring a second counselor.

"I could not live with myself if something happened to a student at my school because I could not serve them," she said. "I implore you ... to find a solution."

The district blames the shortfall on declining state revenue, increased costs to operate current programs and a reduction in special funding that had shrunk shortfalls in prior years.

The district, like others, faces an increase in the cost of its contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System for employee pensions. Personnel costs amount to more than 85 percent of Centennial's yearly expenditures.

The $1.2 million shortfall amounts to 2 percent of the district's budget.

Centennial is not alone, as the Reynolds School District's budget calls for eliminating 24 teaching positions because of a $2.7 million budget shortfall projected for the 2018-19 school year.

Coakley in his budget message proposed cutting as many as four school days, finding $100,000 in other savings and cutting personnel costs about 2 percent, "distributed across all employee groups." The district also is considering letting the reserve cushion fall to 3 percent of expenditures and the contingency fund to 1.5 percent of the general fund budget.

"Absolutely none of those or any combinations of service reductions are acceptable," Coakley said. "All of them are very damaging to the education of our children."

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