CONWAY — Kevin Richard, principal of Kennett Middle School, met with the Municipal Budget Committee last week and focused his presentation on strictly dollars and cents, providing the 17-member committee with a handout that detailed an overall drop in his budget from five years ago.
Richard was asked to explain a proposed school warrant article which seeks $98,000 to return to a four-team teaching approach at his school rather than go to three teams.
"What this shows (holding the handout) is we have reduced where we can," he said. "I think this demonstrates over and over we have done things more efficiently. If I came forward to you in September and said I'm going to bring you a three and a half percent decrease in my budget, I think you'd have been pretty happy. This budget is a six and a half percent reduction over last year and even with the fourth team (if the warrant article is approved in April) it'd be a three and a half percent reduction."
Richard said the proposed middle school budget (includes operations, special education and technology) for 2012-13 is $3,910,988 compared to $4,214,247 for 2011-12; $4,160,736 for 2010-11; $4,148,943 for 2009-10; $4,167,579 for 2008-09; and $4,253,722 for 2007-08, the first year the middle school and high school separated.
"I'm trying to be as honest as possible," Richard said. "I've cut from different areas from the nice-to-haves to the essential to have, but the most important thing is having teachers in the classrooms."
Currently there are 152 seventh graders at the middle school (which projects to 142 for next year) broken up into two teams. There are five staff members for those teams covering math, science, social studies, language arts and reading. According to Richard, only in one block a day are all five teachers holding classes at the same time. Each teacher is contractually provided a prep block, thus students are only slotted in four classes. He said team time is provided when students attend unified arts.
There are currently 74 students in Team 1 with an actual class size of 16.3 students and 78 students in Team 2 with an actual class size of 18.3 students.
The lowest class size is 14 students for reading while the largest is 23 for pre-algebra.
Currently there are 162 eighth graders at the middle school (which projects to 147 for next year) also broken up into two teams. There are five staff members for those teams covering math, science, social studies, language arts and either world language or literacy.
Actual class size for Team 3 is 19 students and for Team 4 the actual class size is 19.1 students.
The lowest class size is 14 students for language arts while the largest is 26 for Spanish.
"Current class sizes include nine classes with less than 15 students with four classes over 25," according a handout provided by Richard. "Of the 80 core academic classes in seventh and eighth grades, the median class size is 18 with an average class size of 18.15."
Richard offered a potential three-team configuration for 289 students. There would be three teams with 97 students on each. There would be five staff members per team. According to Richard, if the students are evenly distributed into five classes (one block/day) it would equal a class size of 19.4 students. When there are four blocks a day and only four classes, the class size would balloon to 24.25 students.
Last December, Richard pointed out that of the 13 schools within an hour of Kennett Middle School, his cost-per-pupil was the fifth lowest. Kennett, according to Richard's data, was $13,959.
Richard explained that going to three teams, he would have to cut four teachers for math, science, language arts and social studies, but if the district goes that route he said there would be a need to hire an additional reading teacher as well as a special education teacher to help with the increased class sizes. In essence the net deduction in staffing would be a reduction of two teachers.
Budgeteer Maury McKinney asked if the district would still be able to adequately provided the special education services it currently offers at the middle school if it went from four teams to three.
"It would be a struggle," Richard said. "We're required to provide certain special services by law, and one way or another we will take care of those."
Budget committee chairman Dave Sordi wondered if the warrant article was approved would it mean additional new staffing. Richard said it would not. He would be able to retain his four core teachers and not have to hire additional reading and special education teachers.
Mike DiGregorio, selectmen's representative to the budget committee and a former school board member, praised Richard.
"Kevin, I think you've done a phenomenal job," he said. "I'm asking you today — you are the educator — and I know I'm putting you on the spot, but where do you see damage start to come if you have to keep (cutting)."
Richard believes the first signs will occur in the area of literacy.
"It's started," he said. "Whatever way (the April vote goes), we'll work hard to do the best we can. At some point you go from best practice to good to OK to bad practice. I'll do what I can and you'll keep hearing from me even with my boss in the room."
McKinney also praised Richard.
"I think the world of you, Kevin," he said, "I have to ask with your budget already being reduced by three and a half percent, why is this appearing as a warrant article and not in the operating budget?"
"Four teams versus three team piece kind of became this lightning rod," Richard replied. "Someone grabbed it and it was their mission to reduce a team. Did I want to cut from four to three teams? I wasn't given a choice.
"I come from the give me the dollars and cents position and I'll come back with something that works," he continued. "I cut the outing club out of the budget and I loved the outing club. Did I want to cut it, no, but I have to ask myself where are my priorities. We reduced a half-time secretary last year and inconvenienced the heck out of us, but it was more important to keep four teams in place. I ask that you trust us as your building principals to come up with the best program we can."