School Board faces criticism over cuts

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 25, 2013
  • Palm Coast Observer
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Paraprofessionals in Flagler County are nervous. After nearly two weeks of tense, lengthy emergency budget workshops, the Flagler County School Board decided to cut six of its paraprofessionals from its budget for next year.

Then, Tracy Umpenhour, director of the district’s Exceptional Student Education Department, announced that up to 27 paraprofessional positions can be cut from the schools. The district employs too many paraprofessionals, Umpenhour said, which may be harmful to students because they becoming overly dependent on ESE staff.

At Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting, paraprofessionals and community members told the board that the positions are vital to the district.

One paraprofessional said she was worried, moving into summer break, that she wouldn’t have a job when the school year starts again in August. Another said she felt unappreciated for her work.

“I don’t understand why you are taking the lives of people over other things,” said Val Sanson, a resident, at the meeting. “I know that there are suggestions for cuts that wouldn’t totally impair lives in our community. Issue after issue, item after item, I heard how the community works for our schools, and yet it’s as if we don’t realize that these (paraprofessionals) are our community; they just happen to work in our schools.”

Most of the board responded to the speakers, saying they did appreciate the work paraprofessionals do.

“There aren’t words to express the gratitude we feel for the work you do,” School Board member John Fischer said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we have to make decisions that aren’t popular. It’s never easy, but we do appreciate what you do.”

But the board couldn’t take back the cuts, its members said.

 “Unfortunately, we simply are not going to have the dollars to continue operating in the way we have been in the past,” Superintendent Janet Valentine said.

Some of those who commented said they felt that the paraprofessional program was singled out, but Valentine said departmental cuts are not limited to ESE.

“We are in the midst of reviewing that staffing formula,” Valentine said. “It could result in the recommendation of additional staff cuts across the district.”

Also contested at the meeting was the board’s decision to restructure its adult and community education program to save costs. The program no longer sustains itself with the money it makes for classes, so the district is working to adjust class schedules so it is less of a drain on the budget.

Board member Andy Dance said the district is slated to pull $1.7 million from its reserve funding to keep itself afloat next year, so finding ways to save money is going to be a “continuous cycle.”

“If we’re able to continue to whittle away to save some additional funds, it’s probably going to be so we can stop pulling so much out of the reserves,” Dance said. “That’s the reality we’re facing.”



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