|Cincinnati Schools Hear Wolf Knocking|
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- While details are not final, the fact is clear that significant downsizing will be announced by Spring. A decade of reform and progress now appears at risk of swirling down the drain. In documents being circulated among school officials, the numbers are described as "big, big hits" on every school and "devastating to the fundamental integrity and functioning" of programs put in place before the great recession. Teacher jobs are on the line and more than 200 could be axed. Insiders have been told to brace for cuts approaching at least $30 million, which is more than 3 times the $8.6 million trimmed last year. This round of whacking is seen as causing serious damage to Ohio's third-largest public school district and could reverse student achievement gains that have made Cincinnati's schools the best among the state's big cities. A slide would unravel years of effort to push test scores higher and dropout rates lower -- and while the city schools are far from perfect they are not the snakepits of yore. An e-mail sent to The Daily Bellwether describes the budget planning process now taking place in schools across the city: "It's a dicey situation and we have spoken at length about this in both ILT and LSDMC meetings. Since every school is taking big, big hits to cover the 30 mil deficit . . . let's keep talking. It's a tough time."
Any setback in school quality would be sure to have negative economic impact on the city as a whole. If residents can't trust the schools, they move. Businesses look elsewhere. And corporations have a tough time recruiting talent if the talent can find a better community to educate its kids. Cincinnati's public schools have climbed off the bottom of the heap. Will they head back down?
These cuts are coming even though the teacher's union has agreed to freeze base salaries through 2012. There is a reopener this year, but school officials have forecast that "given the looming deficit situation, it is assumed that base salary increases will not be negotiated." In other words, the union has cooperated in holding down costs. Currrently, the school district is spending about $459 million, with 31% going for wages and benefits to all employees from administrators to janitors. This year's budget data is available by clicking here.
So far, there has been little discussion beyond school insiders abut the impact of budget cutting now being done quietly as spending plans are being drafted. The central office has circulated a template to city principals to prepare a budget for each school. The templates then are submitted to Supt. Mary Ronan's office who compiles the general fund budget. Last year, the district put out a press release that outlined the budgeting process. This year, there has been dead silence on the topic. But this is what some insiders are saying in internal documents:
"It is clear that the proposed cuts for the 2012-13 school year are devastating to the fundamental integrity and functioning of our program. Reductions in staffing beyond this call for a complete program overhaul and compromise our services to students and families drastically. [Our school] functions as one continuous effort to offer our students what it takes to get them into college and to lead a successful life. Regardless of the students’ immediate family and socio-economic situation – and we service the whole spectrum – we want to remain capable of fulfilling this mission."