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CMS Board Delays Vote On Bright Beginnings, Makes Other Major Cuts

The CMS school board voted last night to cut about $12 million from the budget by shifting school start and end times and by eliminating 134 teachers assigned to help low-income students. The board decided to postpone a vote on reductions to the district's pre-kindergarten program for struggling 4-year-olds called Bright Beginnings. The crowd that packed the meeting chamber skewed a bit younger than usual. About 45 people spoke, most of them in support of Bright Beginnings and a few of them, like Anniah Grace, had to stand on tip toes to be heard. "Dr. Gorman, I ask you to look at me and tell me why would you want to eliminate the Bright Beginnings program because it helped me," said Grace. Bright Beginnings currently serves about 3,200 kids who are behind. Many of them come from low-income families. Gorman wants to reduce the number the program serves to 1,178. That doesn't sit well with many parents. "If you get rid of Bright Beginnings, you drastically reduce the achievement gaps and high-growth that you guys so eloquently say that you want and is your main priority," said parent Veronie Gamble. Some parents of children with autism and Down syndrome thought their children would be part of the cuts. But Gorman told them this wouldn't be the case. There would still be pre-k money for kids the district dubs "exceptional children." Many parents, teachers, and child advocates urged the board to postpone their decision and Gorman decided it made sense to delay a vote until the February 8th meeting. He told board members if they want to save Bright Beginnings in its entirety, they'll have to come up with another $10 million. "In my best thinking right now, I don't have another option," said Gorman. The board did go ahead and approve changes to the school day and cuts to what the district calls weighted student staffing. All but one board member, Kaye McGarry, voted to shift school start and end times to save $4 million on transportation. Joe White was not at the meeting. 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 to seven hours. Board member Rhonda Lennon says she heard from hundreds of parents who said a different schedule would make it hard for them to pick-up and drop-off their children. "We care about the inconvenience that we place on people who went to college and had a heart's desire to teach children. So for me saving those teacher jobs is worth the inconvenience I'm going to give you," said Lennon. But the board decided to eliminate 134 teachers assigned to help students from low-income families, under weighted student staffing. It's one of the district's major initiatives to boost performance at struggling schools by placing additional teachers with impoverished students. Right now about 800 teachers fit that bill. Trent Merchant said the district can't afford to hold on to those teachers when classroom sizes could increase by two in all schools next year. He pointed out that weighted student staffing has escaped cuts in previous years. "The difference now is we have less revenue and more students in poverty. I don't think we can afford that multiplier any more and still provide adequate service delivery to all of our students," argued Merchant. Tom Tate and Joyce Waddell were the only ones to vote against that reduction. The board will meet again on February 8th to decide on cuts to Bright Beginnings.