by Scott Neuffer
Staff Writer

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December 16, 2008
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Schools urge residents to contact legislators

Fliers with phone numbers and e-mails of state legislators were distributed at the Douglas County School District's town hall meeting on Monday night, both for practical and symbolic purposes.

Those concerned about budget cuts to education coming down from the state next year were urged to contact lawmakers. But the handouts also reminded people that the school district is a creature of the state, and must react to what's mandated.

"The only people that can turn this around are the decision makers at the state level," said Superintendent Carol Lark. "They control the revenues."

School Board Vice Chairwoman Cindy Trigg urged individuals to make their voices heard.

"Go the meetings and go to the hearings," she said. "Let them know that you don't want education in Nevada decimated. They work for you, and never let them forget it."

About 130 educators, students and parents braved a snow storm to attend the meeting at Carson Valley Middle School, where they had a chance to address Lark directly.

Although rhetoric was often eloquent and applause common, the reality of budget cuts couldn't be avoided.

The district's projected best-case scenario for the 200910 fiscal cycle is a 7 percent cut, roughly $3 million out of $34.5 million budget.

The middle-case scenario is a 14 percent cut, or $5.4 million, and the worst-case a 21 percent cut, or $7.8 million.

Lark said she's heard rumors of the worst-case scenario reaching upwards of 35 percent.

"That would decimate education as we know it," she said.

Last month, district officials compiled a list of 20 possible cuts, many controversial. However, the cuts are recommendations only. School board members will have to make final decisions in February.

A plan to reduce seventh- and eighth-grade sports to after-school intramural programs, for a projected savings of $75,000, drew concern from both coaches and students.

"We emphasize the six pillars of character at Pau-Wa-Lu," said seventh-grade basketball coach Adam Johnson. "Sports and extra curricular activities do a good job promoting character."

James Herrick, a seventh-grade basketball player at Carson Valley Middle School, said sports are part of his larger plans.

"I do want to get better," he said. "I want to play in high school, and graduate and go to Notre Dame. I hope I can still be coached by Mr. Huff next year."

Proponents of the gifted and talented program, whose reduction could save $154,000, argued that gifted individuals have a hard time performing in a regular classroom setting.

Diego Silva, a 10-year-old gifted and talented student at Jacks Valley Elementary School, received applause when he said the state was spending more money on kids in prison than kids in school.

Diego was worried that a regular classroom teacher tasked with serving gifted and talented students would get overwhelmed.

"What if the teachers are overworked?" he said.

Nancy Stiles, one of four of the district's gifted and talented teachers who could be terminated, said schools have a "responsibility to challenge gifted students to their full potential."

"My concern is not for the loss of my position, but for meeting the needs of children," Stiles said.

Job loss is a real possibility, though, across all of the district's departments.

"People are vague about what's going to happen to my job," said Jeff Fox, the district's mail delivery person.

"I am a realist and understand there are things that need to be changed. But people like myself, like the custodial and maintenance people, are the unsung heroes of the district."

"They are the backbone of a good district," Lark said.

Although staff reductions at secondary school libraries could save $70,000, Carson Valley Middle School librarian Martha Betcher argued that the cost to students would be too great.

She said there are three certified teacher/librarians at the secondary schools.

She said the budget crunch could mean eliminating two of them, leaving one librarian to rotate between the high school and middle schools.

"There are 2,600 students at the secondary schools," she said. "They would have one librarian?"

Betcher stressed the importance of information literacy and student research.

"We are here to motivate our students to read," she said.

Teachers are also facing cuts. Because of declining enrollment, the district could cut 14 teaching positions, saving $910,000.

Dan Dixon, a fourth-grade teacher at Gardnerville Elementary School, said a four-day work week could generate substantial savings in utility and transportation costs, as well as reduce the number of substitute teachers needed.

Chris Shorten, a Spanish teacher at Carson Valley Middle School, agreed.

He said elective classes and elective teachers are often the first to be cut in a budget crunch, to the detriment of many students.

"A four-day work week could save jobs and help students," he said.

Kaitlin Babbitt, a 16-year-old advanced placement student at Douglas High School, said cuts in high school sports should be considered before teacher layoffs.

"Advanced placement students can think and learn on their own, but the majority of students receive personalized education through their teachers," said Babbitt.

"How are they going to receive that education if there are 40 students in a class?"

Parents expressed their willingness to help.

In regards to middle school sports, many said they would prefer a pay-for-play system rather than elimination of entire programs.

Ron Santi, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Pinon Hills Elementary School, said the district needs to change some of its policies that prevent parents from providing certain services.

"There are people out there that are willing and able to help," he said.

"Parents and alumni groups are willing to pick up those areas we're faced with losing and that we do not want to lose."

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The Record Courier Updated Dec 16, 2008 08:07PM Published Dec 16, 2008 08:07PM Copyright 2008 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.