$3.4 million in cuts could be felt in Beaufort County classrooms, school officials say

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 29, 2014 

Hall monitors will be out of a job come October. Two vacant technology-coach positions will remain unfilled.

But the Beaufort County Board of Education said it tried to leave classroom programs intact when it trimmed about $3.4 million from its proposed budget last week. So the district's stringed-instrument program will remain, and a planned expansion of prekindergarten instruction will continue.

Nonetheless, a trim of about 2 percent of the $189.6 million budget will still be felt, school and district officials say.

The budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins Tuesday, is still larger than the $181.9 million budget for the current year. But it's less than the district asked Beaufort County Council to approve.

Schools officials said the larger sum was needed to cover the cost of growing enrollment and unfunded state mandates.

"This district has made significant cuts over the years, and any additional cuts will dramatically impact the classroom," superintendent Jeff Moss said Tuesday. "When you increase class size to a certain level or take away support structure and resources, you will start to see a decline in student performance. You won't see it the very next year but will see it a couple years out."

Here are some of the main areas the school board chose to cut:

HALL MONITORS

What they do: Hall monitors once were volunteers, but became paid employees several years ago. Their main responsibility has been to ensure students aren't roaming the halls during class time. They also help control the halls while students change classes.

Action: The school board decided to remove the 14 hall monitors in middle and high schools effective Oct. 1.

Savings: $250,000

Likely impact: Battery Creek High School principal Edmond Burnes said the hall monitors have been valuable for the school.

"The ones we have here have built relationships with our students and staff members," he said. "That is the way I think they will mostly be missed, through the relationships they have made."

How schools will compensate: Burnes said the schools will modify teacher schedules and put other staff members in the halls more often.

TEACHERS FOR GROWTH

What they do: Ten teaching positions were included in the original budget proposal to accommodate growing enrollment.

Action: Three positions had already been filled by the time the budget cuts were made, but the board chose to eliminate three of the remaining seven unfilled positions.

Savings: $195,000

Likely impact: Class sizes will probably increase as teachers must take on more students, according to Red Cedar Elementary School principal Kathy Corley. This is most likely to occur in the Bluffton area, where growth prompted the decision to build two schools that will open in the next two years.

The district can shuffle teachers from less-populated schools to those that are growing, Moss said. However, that can be a jolting change for both the teacher and students who have to transition part way through the year, Corley said.

How schools will compensate: The schools and district said they will work to provide more support, resources and training to teachers with larger classes.

"None of these things are insurmountable," Corley said. "But it just makes it that much more difficult to provide an effective education."

TECHNOLOGY COACHES

What they do: Technology coaches have been added to the district's staffing in recent years, as it has worked to expand access to technology for students and instruction, district head of instructional services Dereck Rhoads said. The coaches, who are responsible for covering several schools, train teachers to incorporate tablets and other technology into their instruction.

Action: The district will go from nine technology coaches to seven, after the board decided to not fill two vacant positions.

Savings: $120,000

Likely impact: The coaches have been crucial to the district's drive to provide a tablet to every student, Rhoads said. The district integrated the devices into classroom instruction in middle schools during the past two years and plans to bring them into the elementary and high schools this year.

"This means teachers get less support and training with using the technology," Rhoads said. "So it could negatively impact our incorporation of 21st-century skills into the classroom, skills that are crucial for our students today."

How schools will compensate: The seven remaining coaches will be responsible for assisting and training more teachers in the schools. The district also hopes those teachers with innovative strategies and most familiar with the devices can be mentors to their peers.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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