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KISD hearing: ‘Answers with ambiguity’

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Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011 12:00 pm

By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeen Independent School District Superintendent Robert Muller appeared at Killeen High School Wednesday night for his fourth presentation on looming revenue reductions facing the district.

As at previous meetings, Muller explained the roughly $10 billion cut facing Texas public education over the next biennium and how KISD plans to bridge the resulting $28 million local shortfall estimated for fiscal year 2011-12 alone.

The general outline of that plan includes eliminating 202.5 positions, reducing program funding, slashing stipends and a host of other cost-cutting measures.

It is the details, however, that remain to be seen.

Heavy on the minds of those in the audience Wednesday were a number of still unanswered questions: Will health insurance premiums continue to rise in the face of an expected pay freeze? How many special education staff members will be cut outside of the already announced 202.5 number of total staff? Which specific programs will be cut and by how much?

On the issue of programs, KISD has announced 10 staff reductions combined with other funding cuts are expected to save $1.75 million. Eliminating the district's $500,000 annual contribution to the Communities in Schools program is included in that figure, and thus far, the only program specifically targeted.

Muller said he understands people wanting more answers, but stressed administrators are still in the process of working through options.

"I can't give you definitive answers," Muller said. "I know answers with ambiguity in them are not comfortable answers; however, I'll tell you we are bringing you the information as we know it."

The superintendent's response followed a question on possible cuts to Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college readiness program in place throughout KISD's secondary campuses. Other programs that are under review are Reading in the Content Area, International Baccalaureate and English as a Second Language.

Reducing funding for CIS seemed to be an especially hot topic for the crowd at KHS Wednesday. Multiple people spoke up in defense of the nonprofit program that offers services to children who are in danger of academic failure, in crisis situations or who come from economically disadvantaged families.

"If people haven't used the service they don't realize how important and valuable it is," said Kris Hayhurst, a parent whose autistic son has been served by CIS.

Muller said he understands the program is valuable but does not believe it can avoid being cut in the midst of a shortfall severe enough to warrant eliminating staff. He also said he believed the organization could still find ways to generate revenue outside of KISD.

After the topic was raised for the fourth or fifth time, Muller indicated he was ready to move on to other components of the cost-saving plan.

"I hate for CIS to dominate all the questions we're are asking at this point," Muller said.

Regarding special education staff, Muller said federal stimulus money from previous years allowed for a number of positions that will now likely have to be eliminated.

"It will not be a huge number, but the number does fall outside this process," he said.

The superintendent acknowledged teachers who are given notice of layoffs will face tough choices deciding whether or not to resign or go through non-renewal. He assured teachers who choose to resign will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Later, a teacher asked Muller if the district has considered reducing teachers' pay in order to save positions. The superintendent said that was not an attractive option due to the impact it could have on attracting quality educators. Muller also said he believes funding reductions coming from the state level are not likely to improve any time soon.

"I think this is a resetting of support for public service - not something that goes down and is going to come back up," Muller said.

KISD's current plan calls for eliminating 75 secondary positions, 16 secondary support/administrative positions, 53 elementary positions, 10 positions from programs and 48.5 positions from the central office. The elementary positions will reportedly be achieved through attrition only.

Contact Andy Ross at aross@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.

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