The Cody School Board is starting to paint a picture of what the upcoming budget will look like and it isn’t looking good. To meet the impending reductions, the elementary school art teachers find themselves on the cutting room floor.
“Park 6 continues to value art education. Art in a Cart was the beginning and grew to include certified art teachers at the elementary level; unfortunately, elementary art is unfunded by the state,” the Board said in a statement. “In the future, art will continue to be a part of our elementary students’ lives. It will be taught – just differently.”
Estimates from business manager Dawn Solberg show that despite cuts already made of nearly $1.3 million, the district may still need to cut as much as $2.6 million more, depending on which bills pass in the Legislature.
In addition to cutting the elementary art teachers, the district is also cutting three instructional facilitators and a fifth-grade teaching position.
In 2018, the Legislature passed a law requiring computer science standards in education to be met at all levels, K-12. This came as an unfunded mandate from the state, requiring schools to begin teaching computer science at all levels as part of the “common core of knowledge” but did not grant any additional funding for computer science programs. At the elementary level, art is neither mandated by the state nor is it funded.
“These recommendations come to the board. We’re not part of developing the recommendations, district staff and the leadership team bring them to us,” board chair Brandi Nelson said. “And it isn’t just music and art, though that’s what’s being focused on right now.”
Nelson said that though there would not be a full-time art teacher at the elementary schools, art education would not be going away. Instead, it would be folded into the coursework of elementary teachers in other subjects.
Music also took a hit in the cuts. Music education, however, does have funding from the state. High school choir teacher Larry Munari will take over elementary music at Livingston while Anissa Bree will teach both middle and high school choir, superintendent Peg Monteith said. Both music and art will remain as they are for the rest of the school year.
The district has cut 15.5 full-time equivalent positions thus far through retirement, attrition or the simple elimination of positions. It is trying to finalize staffing cuts as quickly as possible due to an impending deadline set by statute. The district must let teachers know by April 15 if they will be offered another contract and currently plans to make those final announcements at the April 6 special board meeting.
“Unfortunately, we won’t know with any certainty what cuts from the legislative session that are coming until about the same time we are approving contracts,” Monteith said. “That deadline pushed us pretty hard on the staffing piece.”
Even if the education funding model were to stay exactly the same, an unlikely event as revenues from oil and gas have not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the district would still be facing a budget reduction of nearly $750,000 next year due to lower student enrollment and the loss of inflation-based income from the state.
The six positions cut by the district will force some reorganization of classrooms, particularly at the fifth grade level, though the district will still meet class size requirements. It will also cause some readjustment with building administrators.
The three instructional facilitators that will no longer be on staff acted as coaches for teachers, particularly new teachers. Experts in the educational strategies and any achievement gaps the students face, instructional facilitators help new teachers adjust to the classroom and match the right help with a student’s needs.
“It will be tough for building principals at the elementary level,” Monteith said. “They appreciated those instructional facilitators to do coaching the principals were not always able to do. It will be a real shift in what their day looks like.”