By Mary Kay Morrow
Following heated debate, a divided HMC-1 board voted to cut funds in half for the district’s much-lauded Parents as Teachers program by a vote of 5 to 4 last Thursday evening.
Required by state law, Parents As Teachers is a free program which provides parent education and developmental screenings for families with children ages birth through five years.
Board President Bonnaye Mims, Board Vice President George Flesher, and members Scott Jennings and Darrell Curls supported the 50% reduction in funding.
In a last-ditch effort to protect the program, outgoing board members Teresa Edens and Ken Bonar sided with Debbie Aiman in a push to fund Parents As Teachers closer to current levels.
“Parents As Teachers is so effective. We should be expanding it in these particular times,” said Bonar. “That’s my parting shot.”
Edens added that in a district where 84% of children are “hardship kids,” the district needs to be doing more for children.
“Kids will be harder to deal with later as opposed to what we can do for them with this kind of program,” Edens said.
Parent Educators of the program had written to the board asking them to maintain “what (Board) Director Curls called an ‘essential’ program that touches the lives of so many throughout the district.”
But in the end, a measure to halve current funding prevailed in a close four-to-three vote leaving Parents As Teachers with half as much money and the possibility of losing a proposed two-thirds of its current 16-teacher staff.
Board member Scott Jennings summed up the sentiments of half of his colleagues before making the motion to allocate 50% of next year’s $825,000 in funding for the program and directing the Early Childhood Principal Teresa Tanner to present a plan for the program using $412,000 as a guideline for their budget.
“Our program is one of the best in the state of Missouri. Unfortunately, I just don’t think we’re going to be able to continue the program as it is. Painfully, we have to adjust accordingly,” Jennings said.
Other supporters of the cuts were equally reluctant to cut the program.
Mims said the district had had the money when the program began.
“I’m not saying this is not a good program,” Mims said. “We can’t continue business as usual. If we had done this five years ago, we wouldn’t be sitting here now.
“I’m pleased to hear the discussion is about our kids,” Mims added.
Curls asked where the money to continue the program at its current levels would come from.
“We have to deal with the realities of the days and times,” Curls said. “Where are you going to cut? Where will it end?”
Opponents of the deep cuts asked their peers to look at all programs equally and for cuts to be made fairly across programs.
“We don’t have a budget and don’t know what other cuts will be,” Aiman said. She said the district has not cut 50% of any other program and asked that money currently spent on things like technology be applied to Parents As Teachers.
“If all other programs were cut just 10%, we would be able to fund Parents As Teachers,” Aiman said. “No one’s looking at that. This is what our job is – to help children.”
“Why are we going after one program and cutting it 50% when we’re not cutting any other program? The idea is to make cuts across the board,” Edens said. “I think Parents As Teachers should be cut – just not this drastically.”
Edens has held that bringing the program back later will cost the district roughly $1,200 per teacher for training.
“We’re just going to be hurting ourselves in the future,” Edens reiterated.
Aiman pointed out that just a portion of the reductions were due to state cuts.
“I talked to DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and state cuts were $18,000, not $40,000,” as administrators reported in March, she said.
Jennings said money from the state had been cut in half and that the district funds “half a million over and above what we get from the state.”
Aiman countered that if the state cut half, why was the district also cutting half?
“It’s the taxpayer’s money,” Aiman argued.
DESE Spokesman Jim Morris said Parents As Teachers withholding for 2009-10 was 6%, or some $2 million statewide, as announced to all school districts in February.
“That may work out a little differently for each school district depending on how many families are served. For the Hickman Mills C-1 district, if the 6% holds, it translates to $18,500,” Morris explained before clarifying the 2010-11 budget process.
The House has passed its final Parents As Teachers state budget of $27 million.
The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended roughly half, or $13 million, of this year’s total budget for next year and the Senate is working on it now.
“We don’t know when a final decision wil be made,” Morris said. “We expect it to go to the Senate floor this week. Then, the Conference Committee will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.”
Asked about the timing of a decision, Morris said, “ Every year it’s a scramble. This year is more complicated than ever. It could be decided this week but they absolutely, positively have to have it done by May 7.”