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Funding cuts will impact classrooms next year

With tax revenues down and the Idaho economy still sputtering, legislators have warned school districts across the state that tougher times are ahead for students in the classrooms. Tougher is the operative word because the cuts last year were difficult to address in many districts. If not for the additional revenue provided by federal stimulus funds, public education across Idaho would have been in a hole so deep climbing out would have been a herculean task. These federal revenues will continue through next year, but yet another almost guaranteed cut by the state legislature will pare school district budgets even further, ultimately affecting student learning across the state.

The Lake Pend Oreille School District was the only public school district in northern Idaho not forced to declare a financial emergency this past year. This was a result of wise budgeting practices, a willingness to live within the means of the funding formula, reduction in staff over the past three years, and the support of the community as evidenced by the successful passage of the last supplemental levy. There were still cuts to the elementary counseling program, reductions in staffing at Sandpoint High School and the central office, and cuts in field trips even though the “financial emergency” was not declared.

Local legislators have told district officials to be prepared for a “hold back” for the current school year. For many districts, this will be disastrous because of contract obligations and other promises to students and families. Our district is prepared to absorb a small percentage hold back without affecting current programs. Although there is some comfort in knowing we have a small reserve to deal with the potential hold back, it also means our ability to address the certain loss of state funding for the 2010-2011 school year is eliminated. We will simply have to cut more dollars. Since the district budget is over 80 percent staffing, this means that class sizes will be increased and certain class offerings at the secondary level will be eliminated. Of course, the district will turn the budget over and over looking for other potential savings, but ultimately, because of the structure of our work, it means staff in the classroom, administration, and classified will be eliminated.

Our district has made tremendous strides over the past three years. This is a result of a focused and high functioning school board, committed staff, and hard working students. Student performance on the ISAT last year was the highest it has ever been. Over 90 percent of the students in the district were proficient in reading on the statewide assessment. Math scores were above 80 percent. More students than ever are exploring post high school education. Our athletic and activities program have proven to be some of the very best in the state at any level; earning awards in every area including athletics, music, math, and science. Our staff and community are working hand in hand to create a school district that functions well for all children. The above is at risk given the financial situation in which the state finds itself.

Despite what may be ahead for us in public education in Idaho, we do know our schools will open next year. There will be a warm building and an excited classroom teacher for each eager student. Staff will continue to work hard and we will attempt to provide the best learning environment possible given the situation. Research clearly demonstrates the classroom teacher is the true difference maker in a quality education. We are fortunate to have excellent teachers, supportive parents, and terrific kids. This is a strong combination. However, we also know that reductions in staff will have an effect on the amount of time teachers can spend with children; class size will increase. We will work hard and intelligently to provide the best education we can with the resources we are given. I will keep you abreast of this information as the process develops.

Those concerned about the impending reductions should contact our state legislators. They are dedicated to our community and school district. They will certainly want to hear your ideas and concerns. Thank you for your ongoing support of our school district.

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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