Anger. Worry. Confusion.
Those were some of the emotions that surfaced among parents and teachers at a Tuesday night community meeting that gave them a glimpse into Tacoma Public Schools’ grim budget outlook. Like other school districts around the state, Tacoma faces big dollar losses from proposed state spending cuts resulting from the economic downturn.
The gloomy fiscal outlook has prompted district proposals to increase elementary school class sizes, cut 20 or 25 teaching positions and temporarily close schools with lower enrollments. Superintendent Art Jarvis recently outlined a plan to school board members that would mothball Foss High School, as well as several elementary schools. The school closures have parents and teachers worried.
“I understand that we have all got money problems,” said Tara King, parent of a second-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School. “But closing schools is only going to make matters worse. It’s going to damage education. It’s not good for kids this age to be moved around.”
Roosevelt is one of seven Tacoma elementary schools with enrollments below 300 – a number the district is using to define small schools. As many as four of them could be closed temporarily during the budget crisis. The other small schools are Franklin, Lyon, Stanley, McKinley, Wainwright and Geiger. But because Geiger has been growing and is planned for a Montessori school, the district is not considering closing it.
Luis Millan, a third-grader at McKinley, has written a letter to Jarvis in an attempt to keep his school open.
“McKinley is important to me because the teachers are really nice,” Luis said Tuesday night. “Mr. Cooper is the best teacher ever.”
His mom, Maria Alegria, said she has had to reassure her son that things are going to be OK. She’s impressed with the level of compassion for kids that she sees in staff members at McKinley.
“The teachers really care about kids,” she said.
Tuesday night’s meeting was a chance for parents to learn more about the budget picture and to offer written comments that will be given to school board members. One commenter said that if money can be saved by increasing class sizes by one or two students, that’s the right thing to do. But another wanted to know how closely the district would monitor classroom growth.
Foss faculty members said they want to ensure that the school’s International Baccalaureate program – known for its academic rigor – stays intact if students move to another school. They also point out that the school – the smallest of Tacoma’s five comprehensive high schools – has one of the strongest special-education programs in the district.
Tacoma school officials say they have lost nearly $20 million in revenue over the past three years – losses that have forced them to leave jobs open, reallocate resources and spend savings. They project an additional $25 million shortfall over the next three years if proposed state cuts materialize.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com
Thursday: The Tacoma School Board is set to meet at 5 p.m. at Foss High School.
Feb. 10: A school board budget study session is planned.