Magdalena Schools face spending cuts

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Magdalena’s School Board will have to make significant cuts to adjust to a loss of approximately $300,000 for school year 2013.

Magdalena School Superintendent Mike Chambers said during the board’s May 14 meeting that every effort was made to spread the roll-backs across the board and minimize negative effects to students.

“Making these cuts was not an easy decision,” Chambers said. “People think we do it willy-nilly, without thinking about it, but it’s not true.”

Chambers said administrators analyzed the budget to determine where cuts could be made that won’t severely harm any program.

“Our senior staff team sat down and decided that rather than cut one group heavily, instead, they would share the burden,” he said. “This is not great, believe me, but it’s something we can live with.”

The cuts involved include the following:

  • All staff will take a furlough day. Teaching staff’s furlough will be accomplished by cutting an in-service day. Non-teaching staff will take a day off without pay on October 8.
  • Preschool will now only be available for a half day, and only for those children age 4 who meet the necessary financial approval, given state and federal funds.
  • Kindergarten will go to half day only.
  • Physical education for elementary school will be every other day, with students participating on a rotating basis.
  • After-school tutoring is on the books, but the extent to which it will be offered remains a question, based on resources available when school is in session.

Shocking Discovery

As part of the finance discussion, Chambers also raised an area of concern involving the Socorro Electric Cooperative. He said the co-op came onto district property in February and “didn’t notify anyone, didn’t say anything,” and installed new meters with multipliers that have significantly increased the district’s electrical cost. The multipliers were set to 80, which means use rate is multiplied by 80 to determine cost during peak usage hours.

Dorothy Zamora, business manager for the district, reported the district’s total annual cost for power during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, was $94,370. She said the billing totaled $108,804 so far this fiscal year.

Zamora said the monthly charges started doubling in February.

“Our monthly costs are now approximately $11,500, and at that rate we expect to pay $135,500 for school year 2013, if rate calculations stay the same.”

Chambers told the board he has requested a meeting with the co-op to discuss the issue.

Tier Success

Socorro Elementary Principal Kitty Martin said she was “very excited” to present the initial results of the district’s use of a tier system. The system was set in play this past spring to address low MAP scores.

Tier success may be a model to help to district meet the new Common Core requirements, in which all schools in the state are expected to fully meet by the end of school year 2013. School administrators separated students based on these scores into tiers, with the elementary school most fully utilizing this strategy.

Tier 1 – students performing at or above the grade level requirements

Tier 2 – students performing slightly below level, with sub-par performance extending to a year-and-a-half behind expectation

Tier 3 – students performing at levels two years or more below expected levels

Martin presented highlights of the following significant improvements:

In the fall of 2011, students in kindergarten through fifth grade were significantly below grade level in reading and math. The result of tiering, she said, has meant that scores across the board indicate students are now at expected levels. The largest growth was demonstrated by those students who were the furthest behind.

“We think we can apply this to middle school and high school. It’s an excellent start,” said Martin.

Martin also reviewed teacher performance grades, another requirement.

Applying similarly rigorous requirements to teachers as to students, the grading system awards A grades to teachers deemed exemplary, Bs for very effective, Cs for effective, Ds for minimally effective and Fs for not effective.

Last year’s grading resulted in poor grades for teachers, including 10 receiving an F, one D, six receiving a C and two scoring a B.

This year, teacher grades improved significantly. There were no failing grades, five received a D, 14 a C and there were two Bs.

“That’s what we want — this across-the-board improvement,” Chambers said. “It’s a tough discussion, but basically it’s no excuses. We need teachers to be up to par, period.”

In Other Business

  • Guidance Counselor Sandra Montoya reported success with the recent RESPECT program, which educated students about bullying and other anti-social behavior and its consequences. To help illustrate the impact of negative behavior, students attended a criminal court proceeding in Socorro.

“I would say it made a great impression,” she said. “Two boys who attended said it really got to them. They may not have talked or asked questions while they were there, but later on it was evident.”

  • Chambers also discussed the recent possible power surges throughout the school, one of which resulted in a downed server. There were “multiple reports” of lights going off in classes, and office equipment short-circuiting. The district contracted with an independent electrical contractor to trace the source of the problem. Chambers said the investigation will help identify if the contractor associated with the recent Ag building construction may be at fault, or if it may be connected to electrical changes done by Socorro Electric Co-op.
  • The board unanimously approved the inclusion of GRADS (Graduation, Reality and Dual-Role Skills) for next year. An overview of the program indicates participating pregnant teens and new parents will receive child care information, decision-making help and discussions of the impact of early parenting.

“This is something that will benefit our boys, too. They need this information,” said Board President Gail Armstrong.

  • The board determined that elementary summer school will run June 4-28, middle/high school from June 18-8, and credit recovery from July 2-19.

 


-- Email the author at lalvarado@dchieftain.com.