Superintendent Hawk Responds To Editorial
Letter to Editor
I would like to thank Jon Brake for his sense of fairness in letting
me respond to his editorial of January 11 regarding the district’s budget
problems and solutions. While Mr. Brake and I differ in our assessment of the problem and its solutions, I appreciate the opportunity to enter
into a dialog with the Free Press and the community about these issues.
The editorial implied that the district has been inefficient over the
years and has had too many staff members. Below are some of the changes
that have been required by law and the expectation this community has for its schools and level of service:
* Special Education-more services have been required and students with
special needs have been included in regular classes. All of this has
required more teachers, smaller classes, and the addition of para-professional staff to meet the needs of these children.
* Technology-we have kept up with the times, requiring us to purchase,
maintain, and support computers and the connection with the
network. This has meant additional staff and training. We do this in the most frugal ways possible, while constantly improving the use of
computers for students and staff to meet the changes in software and hardware.
* Grants-we are an excellent district, in large part because of the
extra grants we have written. Nearly all of those grants have allowed us
obtain additional staff to implement those programs. Examples are our partnership with the Flint Hills Job Corp and our expansion of Title
programs for math and reading.
* KSU College of Education Partnership-Manhattan offers a rich resource
with Kansas State to provide numerous opportunities to bring
KSU education students into our classrooms and to implement many of our YES grant after school programs. We have cooperated with the
College of Education to share staff to help train the next generation of outstanding teachers.
* Early Childhood Programs-Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Even Start
and the Four Year old At Risk programs are examples of excellent
attempts to ensure that all children are ready for school.
* Student Athletics and Activities-we have steadily increased the opportunities and participation for boys and girls before and after school.
* Neighborhood schools and low class size—the community has become accustomed
to having elementary schools in close proximity to
their neighborhoods and with small class sizes when compared to class sizes of the past.
The world has changed-it is tougher to be a "kid" today and it is tougher
to teach students today. Teachers are expected to do much more
than every before, yet their salaries keep slipping compared to the gains for other professional employees. In fact, we are facing a serious
teacher shortage in this country and are only gaining some relief from what other district’s have faced due to K-State’s excellent teacher
preparation program. Put simply, it is becoming harder and harder for education to compete for and retain both certified teachers, support
staff, administrators and classified employees in all categories.
Can we maintain all of our facilities and programs that we currently
have? It looks like that will not be possible given our financial situation
and the loss of revenue from our decrease in enrollment this year. We are primarily funded by the state on a per pupil basis. The loss of
students means a loss of revenue from the state. We must make at least $1 million in budget cuts for next year. If we hope to have any money
for the increasing costs of utilities, salaries (cost of living raises), insurance, and supplies, we must make additional cuts or find new revenue.
The state has set up the Local Option Budget (LOB) as a way for communities to support their schools. This option is especially relevant for
Manhattan and other districts with declining enrollments. Our Board, on January 17, did pass a resolution that would give them the authority
to increase our current budget based upon the needs in late spring. I am not optimistic about a state tax increase and we are being told by our
legislators that the money available at the state level will be inadequate to solve our budget problem. It is my best guess that the Board will
need to levy approximately 3.5 % more once we set our budget. In the meantime, we must prepare now and set forth those things that will
have to be cut should the LOB not be available for this small increase. That means we have to look at up to $2 million in cuts.
To address these cuts, a process has been established that is both thoughtful
and open. First, our district’s Budget Advisory Committee has
been expanded to over 100 people comprised of teachers, staff, administrators, and community members. They began work on January 8 and
will identify possible cuts and the impact of those cuts. Secondly, the first Community Forum on Budget Options will be held on February 6,
7:00 PM at the Manhattan High East Campus Auditorium. Any citizen or staff member with ideas will be able to share their thinking in both
small and large group during this forum. Finally, as per Board policy and practice, all of the budget cut possibilities will be considered by me
and a set of recommendations and options will be prepared for the Board and for additional public input in late March or early April.
In conclusion, I want to appeal to each person in our community to be
careful in their judgements. We have much at stake and can lose a
level of educational excellence that has been built over many years. That excellence can be destroyed if thoughtful, measured decision
making is not the order of the day. It is important for all of us-superintendent, teacher, board member, tax payer, student, parent-to ask tough
questions and to expect both an efficient and quality school system. I hope that our zeal to save tax money, our natural doubts and criticisms
that often discredit our public institutions, does not in the end destroy the future of this community’s children. For my part, I pledge to follow
the process to get input, to listen to all who wish to be heard, and to make the best possible recommendations I can to the Board.