Complaints heard, but MSD board to face painful cuts in budget

MEEKER I The Meeker School District (MSD) Re-1 Education Board will have a work session April 30 followed by a special executive session during which employee contracts are subject to renewal and teachers and principals will be evaluated. Decisions must be made during the board meeting, after the executive session.
Superintendent Mark Meyer had prepared recommendations for certified contract renewals for last Monday night’s board meeting but tabled his recommendations after public pleas to consider other budget cuts before cutting the music and the Family and Consumer Science (FACS) programs.
“Nobody wants to cut any of these programs,” MSD board president Bill deVergie said.
Board member Tom Allen asked to delay on any decisions about these two program cuts until after the public meeting scheduled for May 8.
The MSD board is considering not hiring teachers to replace Bob Eggebraten (band and choir director) or Cortney Aldridge (FACS) next fall. Both resigned last month for personal reasons. Due to the specialized skills and certifications required by these positions, the programs supported by these teachers would likely end.
After the public input portion at the board meeting, there weren’t many dry eyes in the room due to the personal appeals brought by teachers, students, parents and former students. Most in the audience gave examples of how skills taught by the music and FACS programs have helped students build foundations for current and future success.
“There are so many stories like this,” said Becky Ridings after relating the story of a shy freshman who overcame his fear of public speaking to win the gold medal for a presentation in front of 11,000 at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Nationals.
Aly Ridings read a letter from her sister, Megan, about the importance of band and FACS for getting through college, landing her dream job and starting a family.
“These programs offer practical skills and opportunities that spill over into other classrooms,” MHS math and science teacher Dr. Bob Dorsett said.
FACS teacher Cortney Aldridge spoke to the board about the substantial improvement to the budget that she expected to occur next year due to a better accounting of the costs and students in the FACS program. Many of the costs can be reimbursed by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and a portion of the FACS position is directly reimbursed by CDE, she said.
Another concern is the potential loss of the FCCLA chapter in Meeker. Aldridge is certified to teach FACS and is the adviser for FCCLA. Only leaders certified to teach FACS or with special permission from CDE can serve as an FCCLA adviser.
Aldridge said that at least 28 years have been invested in the FCCLA program in Meeker and there are only a few districts on the Western Slope that have been as successful.
Sophomore Caitlyn Shepherd said she uses the skills she has learned in FACS everyday and said the MSD board should look at anything and everything before cutting FACS or the music programs.
Band and choir director Bob Eggebraten wanted the board to know the effect on students if the music program isn’t continued. Losing the band and choir program would mean music would not be taught beyond elementary school.
Eggebraten warned that a lapse of two or three years in the band and choir program would require the next music director to start in the first year of junior high, and it may take eight years to achieve the level where students are now as seniors.
Kent Walter, who has lived in Meeker since 2001, has had two kids graduate from Meeker with four years of high school band. He said he hopes that his youngest daughter will have the same opportunity. Walter said music education is important to our community in order to attract new families looking for a quality education.
Meyer said he is following the model of cuts through attrition. He recommended at the last board meeting that the board not fill behind the two teachers.
Many in the public questioned the wisdom of the attrition policy since it would result in losing two programs that clearly benefit students, especially when they are so successful and take so much time to build.
Board member Mindy Burke wondered if other program cuts such as art or athletics might result in a similar outpouring of support.
Board member Marnell Bradfield added, “Nothing is easy to cut at this point.”
The Colorado Senate recently increased the negative factor reduction proposed in this year’s education bill to $120 million, up from the $110 million approved by the House.
Meyer said a budget proposal needs to be turned into the CDE on May 20 for FY 2015-16. He added that decisions on contract retentions should be completed by May 1.
The April 30 MSD board work session will evaluate programs, address potential program cuts and decide on subsequent contract renewals for next year, Meyer said.