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    AUSD Superintendent outlines plan

    By Barbara Grady-Ayer

    After describing grim financial news she received from state education leaders, Albany Unified School District Superintendent Marla Stephenson on Monday laid out the plan for how Albany schools will function next year with a drastically reduced budget.

    Stephenson said the district will be receiving $1,100 less per student from the state in the new academic year than it did for the year just ending. That is almost a 20 percent loss, she said.

    To view a video of her talk, please click here

    What that loss translates to is an AUSD spending plan that eliminates much of the music, athletics, English language learning, visual arts and other programs that make an education rich. It eliminates many janitors and school secretaries and clerks, not to mention 17 full time teachers. Specific losses at each school are below.

    The good news, Stephenson said, is that two outside sources of funding – money raised by Albany fundraising organizations and grants from the federal Stimulus program – are likely to be available to the district as it comes down to the wire in crafting its budget for next year.

    “With our fundraising groups, our collaboration with the Albany Teachers Association, our board, we are trying to get through this,” Stephenson said.

    Her changes to the AUSD education spending plan, as funded by the state, are as follows:

    At the elementary schools, fewer teachers will teach the same number of students. Therefore class sizes in kindergarten through third grade will grow to 24 children a class instead of 20. Music instruction will no longer be supplied by the district, nor will visual arts. The English Language Learner program will be reduced. Classroom aides will be available for special education but not for general classroom assistance. Supplies will be more scarce.

    Middle School students in seventh and eighth grade will have shorter days because the elective period has been eliminated. Also, the school will lose one of three counselors, a library technician, the writing coach program, a secretary. Meanwhile its athletic budget will be chopped in half. The supplies budget is cut.

    Albany High School, according to the district’s spending plan, will also lose its elective period and thus have shorter days for all students. It will lose half of its athletic budget as well as its school resource or safety officer, a clerk, visual and performing arts, and the writing coach program. Supplies will be more scarce.

    However, both the elementary music program and the middle school and high school elective periods might be saved because of community donations. Within the same week that Stephenson presented her plan, the district received a formal offer of $260,000 from SchoolCARE, gathered from donations from parents and community members. School principals, teachers and parents have chosen to use SchoolCARE money for electives and counselors at the middle and high schools. Meanwhile, SchoolCARE money will fund reading specialists and classroom aide/intervention at the elementary schools. SchoolCARE president Teresa Barnett said between the fundraising organization and the district’s own efforts to stretch dollars from flexible programs, they are very close to funding the elective periods at the high school and middle school and providing an effective number of reading specialists at the elementary schools.

    The Albany Music Fund, meanwhile, is getting close to raising enough funds to preserve elementary school music and chorale programs at the middle and high school. The music fund has been working vigorously to raise money to preserve music in Albany schools. Also SchoolCARE allocated money to restore the reading specialist/ classroom aide intervention positions that were lost at the elementary schools.

    The federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the federal Stimulus program, includes various grants for various economic goals. Among them are state and community “stabilization” grants for places hard hit by the recession. California, with its 11.5 percent unemployment and collapsed housing market, is one of the hardest hit parts of the country.

    Stephenson said that AUSD recently heard it may receive about $900,000 from a Stimulus “stabilization” grant, in that there has been some recognition that school districts in California are among the institutions made unstable by the recession.

    The Albany school district’s total loss, or budgetary cuts, amount to $2.2 million. These funds will help to fill in that hole and make the loss less severe. Stephenson said they will be used to preserve school safety personnel, such as a vice principal at the middle school and yard duty aides at the elementary schools, and preserve teaching positions in core academic subjects.

    Article by Barbara Grady-Ayer

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