On a four- to- one vote at their May 12th meeting, the Cherokee School Board voted to adopt over $220,000 in personnel cuts that include elimination of the transitional kindergarten (TK) option for parents who believe their children are not ready for standard kindergarten class.
The reductions were recommended to the board by an administrative team, whose recommendations also included elimination of three teacher associate positions and two certified staff positions. The certified staff duties will be absorbed by other teachers. The district is also eliminating its portion of the juvenile liaison program, previously a shared responsibility between the school district and juvenile court services.
The staff reduction is being handled through attrition and transfers. The TK teacher is being transferred to the elementary guidance counselor position opened up by a resignation.
John Chalstrom, superintendent, said he wouldn't have recommended the elimination of the TK program prior to last year, when a free preschool program became available to all parents who wanted their children to participate.
Chalstrom said there is documented research showing the long-term benefits of preschool, but no such documentation exists regarding the benefits of TK.
Barb Radke, elementary principal, said her observation indicates results are mixed regarding whether TK has benefited those who have attended. The students who attended TK in Cherokee when it first started are now in fifth grade.
Larry Goodrich, board member, said he believes there is a benefit to TK and the program should continue at least one more year. He suggested an alternative that would still allow the elimination of a position. Instead of having four sections of regular kindergarten, Goodrich suggested three sections of regular kindergarten with TK taking place for a half day. The other half day, the TK teacher would provide small group sessions for regular kindergarten students.
He added that a minimum number of TK students would be needed to continue the program.
Radke reported that there are nine students whose parents have requested TK for the next school year. Through evaluation and identifying those who might benefit from TK, an additional five or six might be diverted from regular kindergarten to TK. Sending a child to TK is an option on the part of a parent and Chalstrom noted that there is no criteria for TK other than parental preference.
The district anticipates 79 students in kindergarten next school year, making class sizes of 20 students for three of the four sections. This includes students who would otherwise attend TK if that was available. Some of the students who would have otherwise attended TK might be open enrolled into a district with a TK program or simply be held back a year.
All of this is speculation, including the estimate of 79 kindergarten age students next year. The number could be higher or lower and won't be known until school actually starts.
"I don't want students to be sent out of the district," Goodrich said.
Terri Weaver, board member, opposed the suggestion by Goodrich. She preferred not to have half-day sessions for some children and thought that three sections would not be enough for the remaining regular kindergarten students.
Chalstrom recommended not delaying a decision on what budget cuts will be made since parents need to know what programs are available and staff members need to start preparing for whatever their duties will be.
Chalstrom noted that the reductions recommended would be in excess of the $215,000 estimated amount needed to cover anticipated increase in expenses, however, there are still some unknowns as far as additional expenses including a wage increase for support staff that is scheduled for mediation, inflationary pressures for food and fuel that will affect future budgets, and an anticipated further reduction of enrollment.
Chalstrom estimates a loss of about 60 students over the next two years. This will reduce revenue for the district because revenue is set for the general fund by a state formula based on enrollment.
Goodrich was the only board member to vote against the budget reduction recommendations, noting that his only objection to the recommendations was the elimination of the TK program.
Neil Phipps, Washington High School activities director, and Kurt Reynolds, third grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School, will share the head varsity football coaching position in the Cherokee School District.
The two will replace Tony Napierela who has resigned to take a position out of the area.
Larry Goodrich, school board member, was enthusiastic about the coaching team in his motion to approve contracts for Phipps and Reynolds.
The assignment of the varsity football coaching position was one of numerous personnel matters handled at the meeting.
Two other head varsity coaching positions were also approved, along with teaching positions for those coaches. Barton Smith was named head varsity boys' basketball coach and freshman football coach as well as the PE and Health instructor at WHS.
Abby James was named head varsity girls' basketball coach and special education teacher at Roosevelt Elementary. Casey Kingdon was named as middle school instrumental music instructor; Sherry Miller junior varsity girls' basketball coach; Lynn Jolly junior varsity football coach, and Mike Nixon as a freshman football coach.
The board also approved modifying the contract for Emily Shuberg, special education instructor at the Early Childhood Learning Center. The contract will be extended from 190 days to 200 days to accommodate her various duties beyond teaching.
The board accepted resignations from Kendall Barnes as middle school teacher associate, Jill Mosbach as middle school teacher associate, Lois Herron as food service worker, Korey Stephan as freshman football coach, and Brett Campbell as boys' freshman basketball coach.
Campbell is going into the Peace Corps, and Chalstrom noted that Campbell's letter of resignation was the first one he has received stating a person was resigning to move to Mongolia.