‘Please don’t ﬁre me’
EAGLE, Colorado – The Occupy Wall Street movement appeared to hit Wednesday’s school board meeting.A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people showed up, as the school board started looking for ways to cut $5 million, the projected reduction in next year’s state funding package.Every chair was filled, and two dozen people sat on the floor for two hours.The cuts are based on next year’s state budget projections, released earlier this month. Also earlier this month, local voters rejected a proposed $6 million annual property tax increase.”I don’t believe it was because the community doesn’t love us. It was just a bad time to ask,” said Sandra Smyser, superintendent of the Eagle County School District.The cuts could cover consolidating some schools, staff cuts and a number of other measures. The school board will spend the next several months wading through them all.They could solve the budget problem if everyone took a pay cut, Smyser said in passing, late in the meeting.
Mary Ann Stavney talked about efficiencies, pointing out that when she was on the school board, consolidation was part of the plan that voters approved in 2006 with the $120 million construction bond.”The more people you can put under one roof – not necessarily in one classroom – the more programs you can offer,” said Stavney, who teaches English at Eagle Valley High School.Later in the meeting, Battle Mountain High School principal Phil Qualman insisted that housing Red Canyon High School’s programs in the new Battle Mountain building could never work, rattling off a list of reasons ranging from bell schedules to incompatible classroom activities.Derrick Weimer suggested letting your pocketbook speak where your vote was.”More than 4,000 people voted for 3B and nothing is stopping them from giving money,” he said.He suggested looking for overlapping programs in other governments, such as the county’s social services department. Weimer pointed out that at Ben & Jerry’s, the highest-paid person cannot make more than five times the lowest-paid person.The school district was heavily scrutinized during the 3B campaign. “We had community members who actually believed that if we stopped giving pizza to teachers we could solve a $5 million budget shortfall,” Smyser said.
Dozens of teachers and staff members were in the crowd, most to learn whether there was a job in their future, especially teachers in subjects such as physical education, art and music, known as “specials.””As education funding disappears across the country, specials are under attack everywhere,” Smyser said.Kevin Kottenstette teaches industrial arts and physical education at Gypsum Creek Middle School. He’s in his 29th year with the district and makes $67,000 per year, he said.”We don’t need to get rid of people like myself who’ve climbed the ladder,” Kottenstette said. “We’ve dedicated our lives to educating the young people in this county.”Kottenstette said that what he teaches doesn’t show up on the CSAP test but years later as life skills.”I’m the only teacher who has to tell kids to stop running to my classroom,” he said. He talked about specials, and their importance, and then cut to the heart of the matter. “Please don’t fire me,” he said.Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.