Walker: 2012-13 to be year of evaluation
Pickerington Local School District Superintendent Rob Walker this week said as school officials plot a path to the future, the district will review programming and changes brought on by budget cuts made more than a year ago.
Walker only officially took over as superintendent Aug. 1, but since that time he's spent a lot of time talking about an approximately $13 million budget reduction the district underwent in April.
Monday, Aug. 13, Walker used the Pickerington Board of Education's meeting to again revisit those cuts as he discussed the district's future.
During a presentation, Walker said those cuts -- which included layoffs for 82 teachers and 43 staff members -- were brought on by both the need to integrate curriculum which would prepare students for a global economy and job market, as well as the district's legal requirement to balance expenditures with revenues.
"We must operate within our means," Walker said. "We cannot spend more than what we have."
Walker said prior to the April 2011 cuts, the district had entered a "tenuous" situation "because we got upside down and we were spending more than what we were taking in."
Those conditions led to the budget and personnel cuts, Walker said, as well as changes in curriculum designed to prepare students for the 21st century marketplace and maximize teachers' classroom time.
However, Walker said, the cuts were made after the district listened to teachers, parents and students, and after each district department was audited. He said cuts to teachers, staff and programs were made in all subject areas.
"These reductions were across the board," he said. "They didn't just hurt one area."
Walker's comments seemed to address parents, teachers and other community members who have said the district's kindergarten through sixth-grade music, art, physical education and technology curriculum has suffered since the budget reductions.
Some, including a group calling itself Keep Our Kids Specials in School, have decried former-Superintendent Karen Mantia's introduction of a "global-integration learning" model to the district, which rather than providing daily or weekly classes for art, music, physical education and media technology, seeks to integrate learning in those areas into other classroom instruction.
As they did last month, Keep Our Kids Specials in Schools members and others from the community came forward again Monday to call for a restoration of traditional music, art, physical education and media technology curriculum.
Linda Jones, who said she is a mother of three district graduates and a member of the Music Teachers National Association, Ohio Music Teachers Association and the National Guild of College Musicians, listed a number of statistics which she said show that school districts which offer music programs enjoy higher graduation and attendance rates than those which don't. She said those district's also have higher standardized test scores.
"Nearly 100 percent of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in math, science and technology play one or more musical instruments," Jones said.
"Harvard Project Zero found notational skills in music correlate positively with achievement in math and reading," she said.
"Musical pitch is predictive of mathematical ability and rhythm is more predictive of reading ability," Jones said.
Jodi Vinci, a mother of three children in the district, said she fears for the direction of the district because music and arts programming offered to previous students are no longer available.
"The intangible benefits that students have acquired as a result of their pursuits cannot be measured," Vinci said.
"Unfortunately, our current elementary students will not be given the same opportunity to realize such success given the current method of instruction," she said.
"Without a consistent and sequential foundation developed at an early age, students will not have attained the knowledge and discipline required to earn the honors their predecessors have. Instead of having nearly 35 hours of instruction each year for music, art and P.E. -- as 2012 seniors did -- current students are limited to 15 hours of integrated instruction," Vinci said.
In response, Walker said he intends to use at least the first half of the 2012-13 school year to examine the 2011 district cuts.
He said as he, administrators and staff continue that task, they also will gather feedback from students, staff and parents to determine which programming areas were most hurt by the cuts, and if they still make sense in terms of the district's budget constraints and learning goals.
"Those are essentially the questions we will ask of our staff, of our students, of our parents," Walker said.
"We have a responsibility to our community to remain fiscally responsible to avoid the really tragic things that took place to our school district in 2011-2012."
Walker said curriculum and staff changes could be made after the examination process takes place, but any significant changes likely wouldn't occur until after the 2012-13 school year.