Well, at least it looks like we're not the only ones writing open letters to Ms. Tyson and the board! The letter below was sent by the Fernbank Elementary School Council to the board, outlining their viewpoints on the proposed budget cuts. The letter is long, so I will simply highlight the key points.
We recognize the difficult, and sometimes painful, cuts which must be made and we appreciate the range of comments and criticisms which permeate the conversations about the budget. We are but one perspective which we hope reflects the broader interests of all students served by DCSS.
We urge an approach which, as far as possible, keeps intact the instructional environment and needs at the school house. To this end, we believe that certain selected cuts may appear easy on their face but will have significant ramifications in the day-to-day school life.
For example, we note the proposed elimination of library clerks. We understand how this position might seem redundant of the role of the librarian. However, as you know, DeKalb librarians are teacher-librarians—they provide regular collaborative whole-class instruction that supports classroom curriculum. ... Eliminating the library clerk position will require librarians to choose which services to provide. In many situations, librarians will be relegated to the role of clerk and we will effectively lose the teaching services of a number of highly trained professionals and impair learning throughout our schools. ...
We also urge that DCSS avoid cuts that appear to have a cost savings but at the expense of other monies. Pre-K would fit this role. Though DCSS may have responsibility for some paraprofessional costs, lead teachers are paid for by the state. We would lose substantially more money then we saved by reductions or eliminations in this program area. In addition, paraprofessionals provide invaluable services at a much lower cost than certified teachers. This last observation is not meant to suggest reducing certified teachers; rather that the critical work provided by the paraprofessionals enable certified teachers to engage the entire class in a way that would not otherwise be possible. The net effect of their loss would be to impair learning for entire classes.
In these difficult times, we also believe it is critical to save programs that provide a point of distinction for DCSS and which are instrumental in recruiting and retaining students. The High Achievers Magnet programs fit this role as does the Fernbank Science Center and its programs. We do understand the perceived higher cost of programs such as Scientific Tools and Techniques at the Fernbank Science Center but we also note that this program addresses a critical shortcoming in national education delivery and serves a substantially underserved population, all in a program of national renown which simply cannot be duplicated in the typical schoolhouse. ...At the same time, we believe that Fernbank Science Center is one of the DCSS entities best positioned to seek longer term third party external support, particularly in the absence of any other science museum or center in the close-in Metro Atlanta area.
Reluctantly, we must also urge the consolidation of more than four schools. DeKalb has a long history of small neighborhood schools, an arrangement we can no longer afford. Based on the stated projected cost savings of nearly $600,000 per school, the consolidation of additional schools should realize a significant savings. And, we believe the savings would be greater when you account for shortfalls in state funding (based on 450 elementary school minimums) coupled with lower central staffing requirements to serve fewer facilities.
Revenue enhancements may also be necessary, though we understand the challenges DCSS will still face in budget out-years. Such enhancements should not be in place of making changes which are needed but should be used to bridge short-to intermediate revenue shortfalls. In fact, the Board might consider sun-setting any increases if they are viewed as a stopgap measure. However, we also believe that the issue of per pupil expenditures, as reflected in the available revenue from all sources (local, state, etc.), is much larger than the immediate economic crisis. The crisis presents an opportunity to discuss what level of investment in education we really need to ensure our children receive a first-rate education and that our graduates are competitive nationally and internationally.
With all the challenges faced by the system, there is a rare opportunity for a wholesale re-imagining of the system. We believe devolving decision-making and accountability closer to the point of implementation can create an environment of innovation and success while enabling DCSS to realize greater savings in non-instructional/non-schoolhouse expenses. We certainly do not wish to adversely affect the lives of many of DCSS’ tireless employees but economic realities dictate a change in our economic structure. At the same time, we can reinvent how our school system works, to the betterment of all DeKalb children.
These are no doubt difficult times, but from adversity can come success. We urge you to retain a long-term point of view which will best position the children of DeKalb for success in the future.
Marshall D. Orson
Fernbank Elementary School Council