SISD Assistant Superintendent Kathy Smartt looks at how Sweetwater schools are facing the upcoming budget crisis in Texas - Education is 44% of the state budget. With the projected deficits in the State of Texas current budget, school leaders across the state are busy brainstorming on how education can survive the inevitable cuts. Sweetwater ISD could suffer as much as a million dollar shortfall for at least the next two years.
Under the leadership of SISD Superintendent Mr. Terry Pittman, Sweetwater has been preparing for a couple of years by combining jobs and job responsibilities. To date, 14 professional and 5.5 paraprofessional positions have been absorbed through attrition. The fruits of these labors have enabled the district to provide increases in salaries to attract and retain highly qualified personnel.
Another recent proactive step was the decision to move the HOBBS alternative school setting next school year to a more economical set up. Students will be transported to the Wallace School in Colorado City. By joining this new co-op, a projected savings of over $130,000 will be gained annually.
Many districts are forced to make a choice to either reduce staff, cut pay or eliminate programs. SISD has chosen to be proactive and make changes that do not involve any of these avenues. Another factor in this budget situation includes the high probability that school districts will not be notified of final budget numbers until summer.
For academic benefits the idea that has been proposed, discussed and studied for many years is actually a part of the answer for the financial crunch the district is facing. That idea is the reconfiguration of the two elementary campuses. Changing Southeast Elementary and East Ridge Elementary to grade level campuses would create an estimate savings of $330,000 every year. Currently the two elementary campuses serve students from Kindergarten through third grade. This paradigm shift will establish Kindergarten and first grade at Southeast Elementary and second and third grade at East Ridge Elementary beginning the 2011-2012 school year.
Grade level campuses solve age old problems of students moving back and forth during the year and suffering academically. Class size adjustments are simplified and avoid the unbalanced numbers between campuses. This set up lends itself to a much better educational situation for each grade level with all being together and drawing off each other’s strengths. It narrows the campus wide focus on the needs of that age child. Programs can be concentrated on the appropriate age campus instead of duplicated.
This change will mean that half of the K-3 teachers will have to move campuses and adjust to a new classroom and all K-3 teachers will have changes which include new staff members, new leaders, and some new surroundings. Although all drastic changes are uncomfortable at first, Sweetwater continues to make decisions that are better for students and expands their proactive measures.
The things that won’t change will be the programs that students enjoy and need and the things that go on inside the classroom. In other words, the things that truly matter will remain. Sweetwater students will continue to be nurtured and challenged by dedicated adults every school day.
Although such changes are only half of the projected shortfalls, SISD feels confident in moving forward with proactive efforts. The district continues to look for ways to save money and will proceed absorbing positions through attrition. Instead of waiting for the final decisions from the legislative session, Sweetwater has already made moves and continues to study ways to not only survive but thrive through the reductions in state funds.