School districts struggle with funding woes

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 31, 2012

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T he Gallup-McKinley County School District isn't the only one that will have to be making changes next year because of cutbacks in federal program funds.

Officials for the Central Consolidated School District and the Ganado Unified School Distict are also having to make hard decisions for the next school year.

Don Levinski, superintendent for the Central Consolidated School District, said his district is "adjusting its overall spending practices to ensure that the district stays financially healthy."

There are no plans to layoff teachers but administration positions will be receiving cuts.

The district is looking at making $354,557 in cuts in the central office and $611,438 in school administration positions. This means that the district's spending on direct instruction will go from 52 percent of the budget this year to 63 percent next year.

The administration changes include:
  • The performing arts coordinator, the early childhood coordinator and the custodian supervisor have all been cut.
  • Shiprock High School and Kirtland Central High will lose one assistant principal position leaving Shiprock with one principal and one assistant principal and Kirtland with one principal, one assistant principal and one dean of students.
  • Newcomb will lose its one assistant principal position, leaving it with one principal and one dean of students.
  • The assistant principal positions at Kirtland Middle School and Tse' Bit' Ai Middle School will be replaced with a dean of students.
  • Kirtland Central High and Shiprock High will see their number of counselors go from three to two although Shiprock High will have the option of keeping its third counselor position if it chooses to fund it with Title II funds.
  • Newcomb High will keep its one counselor position.
  • The district will also be reducing its Parents as Teachers program, which received about $1 million in operational funding. The program, which provides aid to parents with children from newborn to age three, has been requested to seek grant funds such as is done by the Gallup-McKinley and Farmington school districts.

In addition to these cutbacks, Levinski said that the district has had to add $500,000 into its salary structure for teachers, bus drivers and all hourly employees represented by the Central Consolidated Education Association Union in order to make school district salaries competitive with other surrounding school districts.

"There have been a lot of changes," Levinski said in a message to parents. "We believe they are for the best for the district."

At the Ganado Unified School district, administrators are dealing with cutbacks in federal impact aid funding by not filling positions and making better use of the positions now being funded.

Javier M. Abrego, superintendent in the district, said one of the problems the district faces is that the state holds back funding three or four months which means that the district has to come up with $2 million to continue funding the programs.

If it can't do that by reducing its budget, it has to get a line of credit, which means paying interest.

Another problem is that the state has been keeping more and more federal impact aid funds for itself.

Three years ago, Ganado received 100 percent of the federal impact aid. Then it was reduced to 90 percent and then 85 percent.

With a total budget of only $16 million, any cutbacks in funding hurts, said Javier.

"A $1 million cut means 20 less teachers," he said.

But what the district is trying to do, he said, is not lay off anyone by eliminating positions where people retire or resign as much as possible.

The district is doing this by looking at the number of students in the various grades. For example, if there are 100 students attending five first grade classes in that school with 20 students per class, the district will fit them next year into four classes of 25 students each, thus saving the costs of one teacher.

He stressed, however, that the district is not going to make any cuts that will have a major effect on student life and education.

"Some other schools are cutting after-school programs and sports. We won't be doing that," he said.

But he stressed that the funding situation seems to be getting worse and worse each year.

"There's no light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

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