The governor and Superintendent Tony Bennett appear confident that schools can absorb the cuts without teacher layoffs, but school superintendents sound less confident that teachers and other employees can be spared. That means the cuts could force larger class sizes and push teachers and staff onto the unemployment rolls.
In the governor’s Dec 28 press release, Superintendent Bennett said “Any district can find two or three percent savings without reducing teaching staff. If everyone, including teachers themselves will pitch in, we’ll get through this recession just fine.”
School City of Hammond Superintendent Walter J. Watkins took issue with the assumption that schools have discretionary fat to trim. The NWI Times reports:
“I think that’s a pretty global statement for him to make when he’s not actually aware of what each district’s financial state or status is,” Watkins said. “I don’t know that he’s in a situation to actually say that with any degree of accuracy.”
Getting straight to the point is Todd Armstrong, Warrick County School Corp.’s assistant superintendent for finance. He told the Evansville Courier & Press:
…the district “takes a lot of pride in not hiring people we don’t need.”
Warrick school officials bristled at the state’s suggestion that transportation, custodial services or other school-related functions be “effectively outsourced.”
“We understand we want to keep our teachers, but we want to keep all of our employees,” Armstrong said. “Those people are some of the biggest supporters of your schools … your community people.”
Yesterday the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette took an editorial look at the issue and how reduced state support for schools can contribute to inequities in education for Hoosier children:
Some school districts have sought relief in referendums for building projects and additional operating money. Larry DeBoer, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, studied 25 referendums between November 2008 and November 2009.
Sixteen failed, and nine passed. An additional referendum, at Southwest Allen County Schools last May, also passed. Tax increases by referendums fall outside the property tax cap to allow willing taxpayers to pay more to support their schools.
DeBoer found a correlation between increases in a county’s unemployment rate and the failure rate of the referendums. The biggest factor in the success of a referendum was how class size would be affected. Both factors suggest that schools in wealthier, growing districts will have the most success in seeking more property tax support for operating expenses, which is likely to contribute to a growing inequity among Indiana schools.
Additionally, the State Board of Education has produced a list of “suggested efficiencies” school corporations can make, including hiring freezes which most schools have already implemented. From the Indy Star report:
But Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, said districts have been cutting budgets already. Layoffs or increased class sizes may be inevitable in many districts, he said.
“A lot of the things the State Board of Education came up with for potential cuts,” he said, “they’ve already made those cuts.”
That includes some districts that already have begun laying off teachers.