Twenty people spoke before the Centerville School Board Monday evening, making a plea that the school board save several positions possibly up for cuts, including the elementary librarian and media specialist, the band, chorus and art instructors, special education positions, the attendance officer and the metals lab at Centerville High School.
The hearing lasted for an hour and a half as many current and former teachers as well as parents and community members spoke.
Claire Byl was the first to speak. The elementary librarian, who has worked for the district for 27 years, spoke about what she does and why it would be detrimental to students and teachers if her position as elementary librarian were cut.
"A professional teacher librarian is a teacher, a reading specialist, a resource specialist, a technology leader and a collaborator," said Byl. "I am regularly scheduled to see each classroom in Lakeview each week for book check out and selection assistance, teach library skills and keyboarding to five sections of fourth grade classes and to see classes at Cincinnati and Mystic on alternating weeks for a story time where students can begin to appreciate different authors and illustrators, library check out time and book selections."
In addition to these duties Byl also regularly updates the K-6 library resources, helps teachers troubleshoot technology problems on a daily basis, gives presentations to classes on reference materials and how to use Internet searches for research and has also been the English Language Learners coordinator for the district for several years.
Throughout the night, several other teachers from Lakeview spoke on behalf of the librarian/media specialist position not being cut. They included Eileen Byte, Sherry Murphy, Kathy Heitmeyer and Paige Warren. JeNel Allen Barth, the children's librarian at Drake Public Library and a mother of two children in the district also spoke in favor of keeping the position. Many of the teachers spoke about what a valuable resource Byl is to both students and teachers.
"We have a wonderful library at Lakeview that greatly enhances our student learning and definitely promotes reading literacy," said fifth grade teacher Murphy. "Centerville Schools is to be commended for the acquisition of the new technology and services we have in our building today…But with implementation of new technology comes challenges as I'm sure you're all aware…Because our IT person is scheduled to be at our school only one day a week and our technology issues occur more frequently our librarian and media specialist has become our immediate trouble shooter."
Many of the night's speakers were also very concerned with possible cuts to the band and choral programs. Both high school band director Jim DePrizio and junior high band director Robert Coe spoke against possible staff cuts to band. Retired band directors John Holeman and Suzanne Larry also spoke as well as Band Booster's president Shelly Nielsen.
"Any reduction in band staff would be a loss in individual attention that we are currently able to give to the band students," said DePrizio. "The timing could not be worse because our numbers are on the rise. A reduction, even if it is only .5, would be a significant loss in our ability to give students in a growing program the individual attention they need in order for them to learn the different band instruments."
Many of them also spoke about the long history of success and awards the Centerville band program is known for nation-wide. They also believed that it was a distinct possibility that cutting a position by .5 would actually result in the loss of a position, because the school would be unable to find someone who could fill the part-time position.
Lakeview's general music and chorus teacher, Susan Cole also spoke to the board.
"While I have utmost respect for the school board and administrators, I have also experienced severe disappointment with events of the past year," Cole said. " I am disappointed that one year ago when Sharon Birch resigned we were not told to reconfigure the vocal music program and cut to a 2.5 person department if that is what is needed. I am disappointed that the administrators and board members of one year ago pulled a fantastic music teacher away from a neighboring school district to what she thought was a more secure situation…I am also disappointed that the current board set this hearing date on the night of a concert. You are proposing to cut both vocal and instrumental music, yet you set this hearing on a date that our department is working to showcase the talent and hard work of our high school students."
Special Education teacher Cathy Hudson, spoke about possible cuts to special education positions district wide.
"With the current staff numbers, we are providing quality services to the students who have been identified in special education," said Hudson. "As teachers with many years of experience in special education we can tell you that a special ed teacher is just not able to effectively help more than five or six students in a 44-minute period. You see, some of those five or six students have three goal areas. They need instruction and we have to monitor progress on each of those students also."
Attendance officer Marchelle Brown, whose position was also on the list of possible cuts, spoke about her job duties and her worry that if the position were cut, the school would be giving up on enforcing compulsory attendance laws and the drop out rate might begin to climb.
"During the first semester of this school year…I scheduled 73 attendance meetings with parents and students who had reached the second step of the [attendance] policy, I made seven referrals to the county attorney and participated in scheduled mediation meetings, filed one criminal charge for violation of compulsory attendance laws and made three recommendations to the Iowa Department of Transportation for driver's license revocations," said Brown. "These things I don't think can be picked up and spread out and given to other employees and done so effectively."
Brown also spoke about her own efforts over the years to save the district money.
“Over the course of my employment I have voluntarily asked for contract reductions on three separate occasions…in an attempt to save the district money," said Brown. "Over the course of these 18 years things have changed, technology has gotten better…and it just didn't seem prudent to me to have days on my contract at the beginning of the year or after the school year was over for me to sit around and wait for my contract time to be over…Additionally during the last few years I have been called upon to supervise a study hall at the high school which helped fill a void left by budget cuts and I now also cover lunch breaks every day at the education center…I'm making these points to stress that with a little innovation, we've already made sacrifices and covered positions to make things work in a more cost effective manner. That's what we do as a team."
Appanoose Economic Development Executive Director Tod Faris also spoke to the board over concerns some business people had raised with him over concerns that the metals lab at Centerville High School might be cut.
"I've gotten a number of calls and e-mails from our local manufacturers…they're concerns are actually about the metals lab being cut," said Faris. "One employer he estimated about 30 percent of their employees over the years have actually come directly out of our metals lab. That's a pretty high percentage."
Faris said he didn't know what the school was considering in terms of cuts to the program, but he did want to highlight the many good aspects employers say that it brings to the community, including helping students complete degrees at Indian Hills in less than two years and helping to educate a local work force that stays in the community after they graduate.
"There are a number of kids that don't go to college and stay here," said Faris. "Why not keep the program that is educating these folks to have a decent wage."
Several parents also spoke about what a great school system they thought Centerville had and how they were worried that cuts might hurt children's education.
"We moved here with Rubbermaid in 2002," said Kevin Wiskus. '"So we've been here now over six years, not part of Rubbermaid…The reason that we chose to stay here was because of how well our kids were doing in school…The school system has had a positive impact on my kids and I'm grateful for it, because the decision we made to stay in this community has paid off in my kid's life."
After the final speaker was finished the school board adjourned the meeting at approximately 7:30 p.m. The final public hearing was held Tuesday evening at Mystic Elementary. A re-cap will be in the Friday edition of the Iowegian. The board is scheduled to make their final decisions regarding school closings and cost cutting measures at their regular board meeting Tuesday, March 13 at 7 p.m at the administration building.