State Budget Cuts on School Districts' and Parents' Minds - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

State Budget Cuts on School Districts' and Parents' Minds

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SUSSEX COUNTY, Del. - A looming state budget to make up for a $385 million deficit has some in Sussex County worried.

A group of Indian River School District Parents say they were told that the Spanish Immersion program may be stopped in order to satisfy state cuts.

"I think it would put us at a disadvantage if we didn't have this program," says parent Michelle Spindler. "All the other districts in the county have this program or are starting this program and it's clearly shown it's success. We don't want our children to be disadvantaged."

Indian River Superintendent Mark Steele says the program is just one of many the district is looking at cutting, in addition to multiple positions. He showed WBOC just how many positions and programs cost $2 million-- the district's portion of the education sustainment cut.

"In order to get to that 2 million, we would be releasing 43 teachers, 20 custodians, 10 secretaries," he says. "In addition, we would be looking at eliminating a total IB (International Baccalaureate) program, duel enrollment, Ingram Pond program, Spanish immersion, eliminating eight counselors, eight reading specialists and cutting middle school sports."

Steele says the board is discussing what must be cut, but they are determined to stay away from adding a "match tax"  -- something the current state budget proposal allows for school boards to add in order to make up for their loss of funding. Steele says that tax would take away support for future referendums, and it's not fair to make a school board enact that tax.

"If you have to use property taxes, you have to use property taxes," he says. "But the board should not be put in that position."

Across the county, Duncan Smith, the Director of Human Relations at the Seaford School District, echoed Steele's thoughts, saying a match tax is not a one size fits all solution.

"A penny in our district isn't necessarily the same what a penny would generate in many other districts," he tells WBOC. "So where it could be very helpful in some of our neighboring districts that have higher property values, it wouldn't really solve our problems here in Seaford."

Smith says they're waiting to see what federal money will be taken away before making any staffing decisions, but says as it stands now they plan to eliminate 25 current positions next year. 

"Twenty-five fewer positions is a significant amount for a district of our size," he says.

Steele says a budget cut of this size will require staffing cuts, but state law requires that the teaching force only be reduced if there is either a lack of enrollment or a program elimination. As the Indian River School District is growing rapidly, that leaves programs like Spanish Immersion on the chopping block.

"One may ask 'Why would you be eliminating these programs?'" he says. "Because by law that's our only option at Indian River."

Districts have also lost funding for transportation and received decreased division of energy money. Steele stresses that no one in the program would lose their job, and students currently in the program would finish it, but new grades would not be added.

"We have openings and people on this hand who are certified to do certain things but over here if we are hiring for a particular type of program like the Spanish Immersion at the kindergarten level, these people don't qualify because they don't have the verification to speak Spanish," he says. "For all we've gone through in trying to reduce programs and not totally cut, some of our board members are concerned that we are releasing people [one one hand] but we are hiring people [on the special program hand] and that's a big moral dilemma."

The parents WBOC spoke with say they love the Indian River School District and sympathize with what they are going through. They hope the district can find another place to make cuts and plan to voice their opinion at Monday night's school board meeting. 

"There are many families that have chosen this district for this program," says parent Mandy Croll. "So we want this program on many levels."

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