ST. GEORGE — Following a Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Washington County School District administrators and teachers worry about the potential impacts of possible cuts to public education funding.
Legislative leaders have requested scenarios for possible 2%, 5% and 10% cuts to education funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Steven Dunham, communications director for the district, told St. George News that a 2% cut would not be too detrimental to the overall vision and goals of the district, but 10% cuts would lead to inevitable furloughs.
“In our district, we feel like we could go up to about 4.1% before it really starts to have an impact. By 5%, we’re looking at starting a reduction in force, meaning layoffs. And if they propose a 10% then we’re definitely going to have to have a reduction in force. And, based upon a 10% scenario, we may have to lay off upwards of 100 people from the district,” Dunham said.
He said the top priority is to protect the classroom at all costs, so teachers would be furloughed last.
“But by the time you’re looking at a hundred, with the size of our workforce, there’s a potential that it could be teaching positions. A hundred is a lot of cuts in education,” he said.
On a more optimistic note, Dunham said if the legislature leaves the weighted per unit where it was last year, the district will have more ease in figuring out needed adjustments.
Financial hardship will not be a new challenge for Utah teachers. Not only has Utah come dead last in the country for per-pupil spending, a place the state has held for more than two decades, but some teachers have already been reaching into their own pockets in order to supply students with what they need.
Hayley Winslow, a K-5 music teacher and mother of three children, told St. George News that last year she spent around $1,000 in order to obtain needed materials.
“I chose to purchase the materials that I needed in order to teach effectively,” she said, adding that teachers don’t spend their own money because they have to but rather because they feel it’s a necessity.
“When the materials are not there, we feel obligated to the kids to give them the best that we can possibly give them,” she said. “That’s just traditionally what we do.”
Under the proposed scenarios for budget cuts, many of the support programs are going to either take a hit or be eliminated completely. Out of these, Winslow said the cut to special education is the one that concerns her most.
“A lot of our kids can’t function in a normal school setting without the support that they need,” she said. “It affects them in a regular classroom and in a classroom like mine, where they need that behavioral education support.”
Looking at the big picture, this isn’t about an industry, she said, it’s about the children.
“We’re not here to get rich. We’re here because of the kids and the families. It always starts with the kids and then we grow to understand and love and have a lot of concern for the families attached to those children,” Winslow said.
She said she has already started creating supplies for next school year in preparation for the cuts.
Winslow stressed the importance of shifting the conversation from dollar amounts to what the children need for development, then from there, figuring out how to make that work. In the case of budget cuts, it’s not going to be a huge uproar on the teacher front, she said. It’s going to be parents coming to the schools and asking why their kids aren’t getting what they need.
“The parents are going to feel that their kids are not getting the support,” she said. “It’s not about a dollar amount. It’s about a person. It’s about a family.”
Winslow said there was a point in her career when she was having to choose whether to spend money on her students or spend money on her own children.
“That should never be a choice for an educator, but sometimes it is,” she said.
Winslow suspects there will be teachers who either leave the profession or suffer mental health strain due to the stress of staying.
“What’s frustrating as an educator is that the bailouts have come to individuals, and they have come to businesses, and a lot of the businesses are going to recover. But it still deleted a whole bunch from education, and there’s no bailout for us,” she said. “The kids are still there, and this industry isn’t ever going to end.”
Despite this struggle, Winslow stressed the importance of staying positive.
“No matter who makes the policies, cuts the money or dictates the curriculum, parents and teachers are on the front line of education, and we can and will adapt together,” she said. “We can continue to lead by love together.”