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'Now, We Will Do Less With Less,' Gorman Says

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More cutbacks are coming. Superintendent Peter Gorman doesn't know exactly how much the district will have to cut, but he says $100 million is a good place to start. His plan would be a loss of about 1,516 jobs. Those would include hundreds of teaching jobs, many teaching assistants and support staff. The district's pre-kindergarten program for low-income kids would be drastically downsized and, to save money on transportation, many kids would see their school day shift times. One thing that wouldn't be touched is transportation for magnet schools. Technically, the plan Gorman presented last night is called a budget recommendation, but that doesn't really capture the spirit of it. "We cannot cut another $100 million out of our budget. We cannot lose this many great teachers and say we're going to do more with less. These reductions are going to result in less with less and detrimentally impact the lives of our children, impact the quality of the services our staff provides at CMS." Gorman Discusses Budget The district won't know for sure just how much it'll have to cut until the state and county come up with budgets. Gorman emphasized these proposals are not final, but rather the best thinking at this point. "Now these cuts will affect everyone in CMS in some way. They'll affect everyone in the community... whether you live in suburbs or city, if you're a poor student, if you're not a poor student, if you're child's a high-flier, if you're child is an average student or struggling. These cuts will affect you," Gorman said. Over the hour-long presentation, Gorman's tone was measured, but the words detrimental, staggering and devastating kept coming up. He said with such hefty reductions in previous years, there's no way to avoid cuts that touch the classroom. One big savings would be to increase class size by two students in most grades. Gorman laid out the arithmetic. "It is equal to 255 positions to increase class size by two for $15 million. It's just a devastating cut." Gorman wouldn't give an exact number of teaching positions he suggests cutting. Only that it amounts to hundreds and hundreds. Not all of those would be lay-offs. Some would be vacant positions. His plan also calls for eliminating teaching assistants in first and second grades. Gorman's proposal would keep intact one of the district's major initiatives to boost performance at struggling schools, albeit with cuts. That's weighted student staffing, the district's practice of placing more teachers per students at low-performing schools. Right now, about 800 teachers fit that bill, but under Gorman's plan, the district would lose 134 of those positions. "It is my belief as an educator that this is the most important program after teacher effectiveness that we have in place in CMS. Still with the challenges we believe we have to do some reductions. Under the plan, the district's pre-k program for poor kids called Bright Beginnings would remain, but would take a big hit. The number of kids it serves would be cut in half and the program would only be offered at title 1 high poverty schools. Gorman also proposes shifting school start and end times to save on transportation. Most students would see a shift of less than half an hour in their day, but some would see up to a 90 minute change. Elementary schools would expand their day by 45 minutes to 7 hours. Middle schools sports would also be cut. "I'd like to be able to tell you that we've made the right choice in our recommendations for every single cut, but I don't know that for sure," Gorman said. Gorman said the district was in uncharted territory, and could only present its best thinking at this point. For the most part, the board seemed resigned to the cuts. It's the third year in a row middle school sports has been on the chopping block. In past years, board member Joe White has fought this cut, but last night he saw no way to save middle school sports - or avoid other cuts. "I do have a great deal of heartburn," White said. "The reason being is that I don't have any good alternatives. I honestly think these are the best of our bad alternatives, the best of our options. There aren't any good ones. Gorman did not propose cutting magnet transportation. Most board members seemed to go along with that, but not Rhonda Lennon. "My focus has got to be home schools and strengthening the academic achievement in the home school and to me taking $5 to $9 million out of the home schools, or cutting teachers, or increasing class size in my home schools, while still providing a $1,000 bonus basically for every magnet student that gets on a bus is just not an acceptable trade," Lennon said. Gorman asked the board to decide at its meeting on January 25th whether to make changes to magnet transportation, weighted student staffing, Bright Beginnings, and school start and end times. A public hearing on the proposed cuts will be held at that meeting.