Fox Point-Bayside School District officials saw a town hall meeting Monday night as a way to clear the air of misconceptions about proposed reductions in art, general music, technology and physical education programs.
But after administrators spoke for 35 minutes on the reasons behind the move, many of the 100 or so parents and teachers still weren't satisfied, and several said the scheduling changes would reduce the overall quality of education offered by the district.
Those at the meeting at Bayside Middle School also were concerned about the prospect of losing some quality teachers next year. The district has sent out 10 preliminary layoff notices to teacher, although school officials say that has little to do with the scheduling changes.
“There are some teachers who stay Friday for two hours with the kids to engage them in doing something outside the school, and we are just letting them go,” one parent said.
Another parent said she received a text message on a Saturday from one of her son’s teachers to let her know her son was missing an assignment.
“This is why we live here — because of teachers like her,” she said.
For weeks, parents and teachers have opposed changes in the 2013-14 school year and one parent has threatened to launch a recall effort of three board members if the board doesn't reverse itself.
The district's side of the story
Monday marked the first time school officials publicly discussed the proposed changes, which Superintendent Rachel Boechler said were driven by state mandates. The changes are designed to add more math time to prepare students for the new state test, and a 30-minute flex period to make time for the government mandated Response to Intervention for students struggling academically.
A 14-person committee that included parents, board members, teachers and administrators was formed over the summer to work on creating a new schedule, which was released in December. The district also surveyed parents to determine what programs are most important.
"We’re not against flex time as teachers, we’re against having this shoved down our throat."
Under the proposed changes, fifth-and sixth-grade physical education would be offered 2-1/2 days a week for physical education, instead of three days, and art, general music and technology would be offered on a quarterly basis instead of a trimester. That means one of the courses would be offered each quarter, five days a week, instead of throughout the year, twice a week.
A class called STEM, an arts/humanities projects based/problem-solving course, would be added as one of the classes offered on a quarterly-basis, to ensure the roughly 100 students are in class sizes of about 25.
Fifth- and sixth-grade band and orchestra would be combined, though they will meet twice a week all year, instead of once. Seventh- and eighth-grade general music will be cut to make time for an additional math class, and students will be encouraged to join choral, band or orchestra. Choir time would be increased to three days a week, instead of two days.
Teachers question administration
But two teachers who served on that scheduling changes committee said its members had no idea that the district was going to make its recommendations to the School Board.
Teacher Jill Lesch, a committee member, said it's wrong to say the committee approved the recommendations. Amy Magee, also a teacher who served on the committee, said the group last met in November with the intention of meeting again in December. That didn't happen.
"We thought we were going to be working this out, we thought were going to be communicating, and taking and collaborating more to figure this out, and then the December meeting was canceled," she said.
Magee said teachers on the committee wrote a letter to the administration taking issue with the recommendations.
"We love working with your children, and we want everything that is good in this district to continue," she said.
Seventh-grade math teacher Mark Confronti spoke out against the scheduling changes, saying the district wasn’t being transparent about true effects the cuts will have on staff and children. “You guys are not getting the full story,” said Conforti, who added he feared he would be reprimanded for his comments during Monday night’s meeting.
"We’re not against flex time as teachers, we’re against having this shoved down our throat a month before the end of the school year," he said.