No sports. No band, chorus or theater. No junior prom, no homecoming, no clubs. No specialized art classes. Fewer electives in the high school and class sizes up to 27 in the elementary school. No kindergarten.
That’s the blackest of the many dark visions of the immediate future of one of the state’s poorest school districts as it works to cover state aid cuts for next year’s budget. The district stands to lose more than $800,000 in aid that’s directly related to education, a 5.5% cut that would require a local tax increase of more than 20% to make up. (Prior coverage here.)
Hannibal’s Board of Education members asked the district’s administrators a simple, awful question: If you had to make cuts everywhere, what would you cut? Wednesday night, in front of a large audience of community members, they provided the answer.
Hannibal’s three building principals each outlined the cuts that have been made in the last few years. At Fairley Elementary, 8 of 33 teachers have been laid off, along with the only assistant principal, a librarian and half-time music and art teachers. At the middle school, 16.5 teachers, spanning every academic discipline. Some of the cuts have taken the school out of compliance with state regulations for certain programs such as Home and Careers. At the high school, 4.5 teaching positions and a half-time guidance position, along with the loss of 32 elective classes.
Each principal said that his building required more teachers and staff, not fewer, but outlined the cuts they would make if they had to. “These are not our recommendations,” said Fairley Elementary principal Joseph Musa. “Things that aren’t absolutely mandated, these are the things you’ll see tonight.”
Fairley Elementary: Two teachers, eliminating a first grade and a third grade classroom; a fulltime literacy coach; a fulltime music teacher and a fulltime art teacher, forcing classroom teachers to teach art and music themselves; the entire Kindergarten program, which is not state-mandated.
Kenney Middle School: Two teachers, eliminating a fifth grade and sixth grade classroom; eliminate band and chorus.
Hannibal High School: Cut all extracurricular positions and activities; cut the 1/6th position needed for the high school chorus; cut the fulltime music position, ending band, jazz band, music theory and guitar lessons; cut one fulltime art teacher, leaving one to teach only the required Studio in Art class and ending all elective art classes; cut the half-time business teacher; cut a half-time English Language Arts position; cut a half-time social studies position; cut a half-time science teacher; eliminate the crisis intervention specialist.
Athletics: A range of options here. The district could choose to cut all sports. It could also choose to eliminate only JV sports, allowing students in grades 7-9 to play modified sports and students in grades 10-12 to play varsity sports. Modified teams would play a local schedule only, against neighboring schools, to save on transportation costs.
Only special education would not suffer a cutback. Special education services are mandated by law and would probably have to increase next year to handle a higher number of students who require the assistance.
“We have a revenue level,” said Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio, holding out one hand to represent the level of funding. “We have an expenditure level,” he said, holding his other hand higher. “We have to clear the gap.”
There are problems with some of the items listed as possible cuts.
Kindergarten could be eliminated, but it would damage the school’s ability to get students up to state standards by the time time they begin taking statewide tests later in elementary school. And the distirct could keep its pre-K program, since it’s funded by grants, but students would then have a year off before starting first grade.
Higher class sizes in the elementary grades are already damaging the requirement to teach some subjects in small groups, Musa said. Forcing teachers to teach music and art will take time away from academic subjects because art and music take place during a teacher’s required daily planning period.
More cuts in the middle school will put the school farther from compliance with state regulations for some courses and will put more students in more study halls every day.
High school principal Brian Schmitt said it’s possible that the loss of more electives will leave his school without enough elective courses to allow all students to graduate on time.
And the loss of art, music, sports and clubs would remove the incentives for some students to remain motivated to graduate and add more idle time that would lead to more discipline problems, the principals and athletic director said.
The school’s graduation rate is only 68%, said Schmitt. “This won’t help it,” he said.
Board president Matt Henderson asked the administrators to come to the next budget workshop, March 16, with dollar figures for each possible cut, and to prioritize the list of possible cuts they presented.
No one liked what they heard.
“It’s starting to take on the appearance that we’re not able to put on the education that the state requires,” said Henderson. “I’m embarassed. Overall, we’re failing. We’re failing our students.”