West Elementary bracing to lose extended school day
Tight budget in D-11 and stimulus $ going away

       With major budget cuts looming in District 11, West Elementary may have to give up an effective but costly strategy of extending school days a half-hour longer than required.
       The $142,000 expense to pay the additional staff salaries in the current school year came from D-11's share of the roughly $800 billion federal stimulus package in 2009.

Crossing guard Sharon Padilla helps people cross 20th Street at Kiowa Street after West Elementary let out last week. The school had requested a guard during its first year (2009-2010) because of concerns about traffic safety around 20th and Kiowa just before and just after school.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But the last of the district's stimulus money will have been spent before the 2011-2012 school year starts. That, with an anticipated major reduction in state funding for schools, has D-11 facing its second multi-million-dollar budget cutback in two years, predicted its chief financial officer, Glen Gustafson.
       It's too early for him to say absolutely that West's extra-time plan will be unaffordable, but he offered scant possibility for such niceties as D-11, which had to cut $11 million for the current (July-to-June) fiscal year embarks on its first-ever “zero-based budgeting process,” requiring each department to “present the minimum budget it needs to exist.” And even that may not be enough, depending on how much the state ultimately cuts, Gustafson warned.
       West Elementary started in fall 2009, taking over available space in the building housing West Middle School as part of a district budget move that included the closure of three long-time Westside schools.
       West Elementary Principal Terry Martinez said he sought the extra half-hour mainly to help lagging students in reading and math and to make it easier for staff in both schools to synchronize their planning for what is essentially a K-8 campus. Also this year, parents driving kids to and from both schools have the benefit of each starting and ending at nearly the same time.
       In 2009-2010, the elementary started 45 minutes before the middle school and let out an hour earlier. This year's elementary schedule starts and ends about 10 minutes earlier than the middle school.
       “It's going to be hard to not have it [the extra half-hour]. It's been huge for our families,” Martinez said. “But with the budget cuts at state, it might be one of those things we have to put aside until the economy recovers.”
       Even if West has to revert to its old schedule next school year, Martinez looked on the bright side that useful gains are being made this year. For the students, it's been possible to provide individualized assistance (through a process D-11 calls “intervention”) and to “get some kids caught up,” he said, “That will pay off in the long run.” For the elementary and middle school staff, having both schools end at about the same time has eased the logistics for them to meet and work out “overlaps” in the use of the building's shared space and in the sometimes uneven ways subjects are taught in the two schools, Martinez explained.
       West's $142,000 for the extra half-hour this year was part of $4.77 million in stimulus funds that District 11 received over a two-year span for its Title 1 schools, according to Holly Brilliant, the district's Title 1 director.
       A Title 1 school in District 11 is currently defined one in which at least three-quarters of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on family income. Of 15 such elementaries total, those on the Westside are West and Bristol.
       Brilliant said most of the district's Title 1 stimulus money went to “professional development” (training teachers how to be effective with less affluent students). “All of the schools were doing some kind of professional development,” she said. “It's a self-sustaining thing, once the teachers get up to snuff.”
       D-11's last major use of stimulus dollars is called “Jump Start.” In that program, “at risk” students in Title 1 schools will be assigned to a summer school program starting two weeks before the 2011-12 school year. The teacher-student ratio will be lower “so kids can get a lot of instruction,” Brilliant said. “We know through research that having them at the beginning instead of the end of the school year is lots more beneficial.”

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