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School Board discusses budget at workshop

A proposal to eliminate one section of fifth grade at Glencoe-Silver Lake (GSL) Schools was back on the table Monday night, where it was deferred until July (see separate article).
The GSL School Board met in a work session Wednesday, June 6, to discuss its next steps after a proposal to eliminate the section — made possible through the retirement of a long-time teacher and a smaller class size for fifth grade — failed on a 4-2 vote at the board’s May meeting. The board is looking to cut about $60,000 to $70,000 from its budget to maintain its unreserved fund balance at its policy of 20 percent of the general fund.
The proposal, introduced at that May meeting, was to not replace the retiring teacher and reduce the number of fifth-grade sections. However, that proposal was met with protest by the fifth-grade team, which felt that smaller class sizes would be beneficial to the students.
At the Wednesday workshop, Board Member Kevin Kuester, who cast one of the dissenting votes, said he felt that he was not ready to vote on the issue at the May meeting.
Just prior to that meeting, he said, board members received a letter from staff outlining their concerns.
Kuester indicated that some of the information in the letter was misleading, in particular in regard to behaviorial issues for this year’s fourth graders, which will be next year’s fifth graders.
Kuester said that according to the letter, there were 239 referral forms issued for behaviorial problems.
“That was the total for grades three through six, not just the fourth grade, which is what we were led to believe,” said Kuester.
“Knowing what I know now … I wouldn’t vote for keeping that other fifth-grade section,” said Kuester.
Board Member Anne Twiss said that she, too, felt more informed now than she did the night of the vote.
Both Kuester and Board Member Jamie Alsleben brought up the possibility of paring the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lead teachers.
There are currently two lead teachers, and Alsleben said the goal was to pare that to just one after two years. Those two years are up, he said, and there is still not a plan to eliminate one position.
Alsleben said that if the district eliminated one of those positions, that teacher could either be assigned to an anticipated large incoming kindergarten class, or to maintaining another section of fifth grade.
Alsleben said that the lead teachers were supposed to train classroom teachers on how to implement a STEM component for their classes.
Superintendent Chris Sonju said that while that was the goal, “we’re just not there yet.” He said the program probably needs one more year of two lead teachers to accomplish the goal.
For more from the workshop, see the June 13 print edition of The Chronicle.