Thursday, November 3, 2016

Update: Poore talks about more LRSD budget cuts and 3-4 school closures

Posted By and on Thu, Nov 3, 2016 at 3:20 PM

click to enlarge TALKING CUTS: Michael Poore.
  • TALKING CUTS: Michael Poore.

Michael Poore,
Little Rock School District superintendent, spoke this afternoon about additional budget cuts in anticipation of the approaching loss of desegregation payments from the state.

On the list of potential school closures are Carver Magnet, Franklin and Wilson elementaries, buildings that are all well under capacity and within relatively easy reach of other schools.

Poore said he'd like to convert Carver to a pre-school center. He said he hoped for more state resources to expand pre-K. (The Republican legislative majority threw pre-K out of its party platform, FYI.) The magnet school's enrollment has declined from 474 in the 2013-14 school year to 293 in the current school year, according to a document Poore distributed today. It's also located in an east Little Rock neighborhood that's been losing population for years. Nonetheless, among the LRSD's elementaries with high poverty rates, Carver is also one of the highest performing. Most Carver students would likely shift to Booker Elementary, the superintendent said.

Franklin enrollment has dropped sharply as well — from 443 in 2013-14 to 269 in the current year. Poore said its staff and students could move to Stephens Elementary. He hopes a successful clinic that now operates at Franklin could accompany the move to Stephens, as well as some church partners that have helped the school.

Wilson has 316 students in a zone that has lost students over the last 15 years. Poore said they'd probably be moved to three or four different schools (Bale, Brady, Romine and Western Hills), all perhaps closer to their homes.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Learning Academy alternative school would move into the Wilson building from its existing site. Poore said the district was looking to close the current Hamilton site, but that it wanted to find a new location for the school. One possibility is that Bale Elementary, which is adjacent to Hamilton, could expand into a K-8 school by taking over the old Hamilton facility.

A pre-school at the former Woodruff Elementary is also on the list that might be closed, Poore said; it currently serves around 180 students. Families would have the new pre-K at Carver as an alternative. Poore said he hopes to open more pre-K slots for 3-year-olds, as well as birth-to-3 slots. (Many pre-K seats are open to 4-year-olds only.)

(Note: Carver is no more than a mile from a the big new eStem charter school just approved for new construction by the state Board of Education, which now controls the Little Rock School District. Efficiency? Uh huh.)

None of these changes are set in stone yet, but a starting point for discussions next week, the superintendent said. The district has posted documents outlining the budget cuts and potential closures on its website, along with a list of planned community meetings by zone over the coming month.

Here's a one page sheet the LRSD distributed today that outlines definite, probable and possible options for cuts:

click to enlarge NOT SET IN STONE: The budget options outlined by Poore today. - LRSD
  • LRSD
  • NOT SET IN STONE: The budget options outlined by Poore today.

Among the definite items on the list: changes to transportation and a reduction of central office staff for a reduction of around $4 million. The school closures fall in the "likely" category and would save $5.6 million. Staffing reductions (primarily at the secondary level) and reductions in duty stipends for staff would reduce the budget by $3.35 million. Fewer staff at middle and high schools means larger class sizes.

Cathy Koehler, president of the Little Rock Education Association, said the reductions would be through attrition, not through layoffs. The district has been reducing its classroom staff by attrition the past two years in preparation for the loss of the desegregation funds.

Koehler praised Poore for placing three possible budget reduction items in the "last resort" category: a further reduction in teacher health benefits, the privatization of custodial services and food services, and stipends for National Board Certified teachers. Poore told the press that employees already experienced cuts to their health insurance last year as part of a previous round of budget reductions. (At the state level, Arkansas provides rock-bottom health insurance to teachers, which means school districts must decide whether to contribute additional money to mitigate the high costs; the LRSD now contributes around $275 per staff on top of what the state chips in.) He said the district was well-served by its custodial and cafeteria staff, and that he had no desire to privatize these services. He'd only do so if the money couldn't be found elsewhere, he said.

Koehler said the closing of schools was heartbreaking, but that after looking at the numbers, "I don't know how we survive without closing something." She said she was confident the district wouldn't turn its back on teachers in school buildings that were being re-purposed.

Poore also continued the discussion of asking voters to extend an existing millage for bond debt to create additional money for the new Southwest Little Rock high school, plus work at McClellan and Fair High Schools, perhaps as new K-8 schools, and repairs to other schools. He said several times: "No new taxes."

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