Keep learning as goal when considering cuts


February 18, 2010 - 12:00 AM

“None of these changes are conducive to learning,” Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of schools, admitted at Wednesday night’s USD 257 school board meeting.
But if what best helps students learn is kept as their goal, board members can hopefully inflict the least harm as they are forced to again slice away at their ever-dwindling budget.
Everything was on the table. Athletics, all-day kindergarten, vocal and instrumental music, the alternative school, and four-day school weeks.
Some changes posed greater savings than others.
Some cuts may look better on paper than in practice.
One suggestion was moving middle school vocal and instrumental classes from the Bowlus Fine Arts Center to the middle school.
On paper, it saves a tad, but at a great cost.
The move would in-volve the elimination of the technology lab in-structor at IMS, a paraprofessional who assists him and the closing of the lab for students. The computer pods would be removed and the room would be used for the fine arts classes.
The change takes students from a facility designed specifically for music and places them in a room that is, as Neuenswander said, not “conducive to learning.”  The long-term risk is that youths will be increasingly turned off to the study of music because classes will be conducted in a black hole, where sounds are lost because of the lack of such things as acoustic panels. These are life-long skills and pursuits that will be put in jeopardy.
The real crime is that a state-of-the-art facility that has benefited students for three generations now would be abandoned for the middle school music students and replaced with a computer room not designed for choral or instrumental music. Iolans have benefited from studying art, music and drama at the Bowlus for the past 46 years. Our district continues to be the envy of visiting schools because of that opportunity. In the United States, perhaps all the world, there’s not a town our size that can boast of a fine arts center like the Bowlus.
At times, it’s treated more like a burden than the gift it is.
All told, the dollar amount saved is expected to be $83,750, including the technology teacher and the para’s salaries, the $16,300 spent on the bus and its driver to transport the students to the Bowlus, and the $6,450 for use of the Bowlus space
Let’s see. In a pared down $12.6 million budget, that’s much less than a 1-percent savings.

IT IS THE GOAL of the Friends of the Bowlus to have secured enough funds through bequests and contributions that in the not-too-distant future it will become self-supporting. Of the Bowlus’  budget, the school district contributes about 21 percent. The rest of the funding comes from income from investments, contributions from the city and county governments, in-come from family and individual trusts, user fees and grants.
Many fear pulling the students out of the Bowlus would be a permanent decision — in bad times as well as good — forever severing the special relationship the building has fostered between students and the arts.
Tough decisions like this are facing school boards all across the state because our state legislators are reneging on their obligation to fix a budget that’s $400 million in the hole. Gov. Mark Parkinson’s proposed 1-cent sales tax would do the job. The governor’s suggestion failed even to make it out of committee for lack of support. Instead, legislators have tackled more important issues such as texting while driving, seat belt restrictions, underage drinking, body armor, and the perennial topics of abortion and the death penalty.

Contact Sen. Derek Schmidt and Rep. Bill Otto today. Tell them to do what it takes now to avoid such drastic cuts in school funding. Most Kansans are willing to pay to have their children well-educated. It’d be nice if our elected representatives felt the same way.

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