The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Don Ogle 

Review Leaves Leyton With Difficult Decisions

 

December 15, 2017



Leyton’s school board will be wrestling with a difficult decision in the coming weeks.

At its meeting Wednesday, the board was presented with information that could potentially see significant reorganization of staff and programs.

The presentation drew heavy interest from the community, also, as more than 70 people packed the room to hear the report by Superintendent Lorrie Miller.

The report and potential changes stem from a visit by a state accreditation team last year. After that visit, suggestions were made that the district could make changes to increase efficiency.

When Miller came in to serve as superintendent this year, the board felt the situation was perfect for an internal review - a look at district operations by an experienced administrator who could look at them with new eyes.

Miller said she has spent much of the year reviewing the district’s classrooms, operations and programs, right down to taking lunches with students.

In her findings, Miller said she believes the district is over staffed and in some educational areas, offers more classes than needed. Conversely, the district has classes that have as few as one student in them, also reducing efficiency.

Leyton has a 7:1 student to teacher ratio overall, and Miller said the state suggests 10 or 12 students per teacher. For classes, a handout showed that in some areas the district has up to 50 percent more class options than required.

On the budget side, Miller said the district cost per student is just more than $18,000 per student. In comparison, the state average cost per student is $12,230. Leyton currently has 184 students.

All of the findings add up to a recommendation that the district cut 3.5 teaching staff and add a half time administrator. Miller said she feels a half time administrator at the Gurley site, which has the grade school, would help provide leadership and development opportunities.

In making the conclusion and recommendations, Miller said they did not stem from budget concerns, and felt some classroom options could be deleted without affecting performance.

Several audience members addressed the board, voicing concerns over the potential cuts and how they could affect the learning parents say makes the district desirable for them as parents.

First to address the board was the head of the Leyton Teachers’ Association, Alexandra Peters. She outlined a number of reasons association members feel the cuts would be unwise. One area she addressed was the number of classes offered in some instructional disciplines.

“We recognize they are above the state requirements,” Peters said in speaking against program cuts. “But do we want to continue on the minimum possible?”

One parent spoke specifically to the science programs, outlining the number of successful students who have gone on in the medical field as a result of their high school learning.

Another said flatly, “why take these programs away when they are what set us apart?”

Several parents also spoke to their choice of having their students in the Dalton school district. Several said they have or are working to keep their students in the district despite factors pulling them in other directions. Two spoke toward job situations that for various reasons could potential take them away from the area, but neither wants to leave specifically because of the benefits they see in the school.

Long-time Dalton area resident and former county commissioner Bud Gillespie addressed the funding question, saying he didn’t feel it would have a positive affect.

“Even if you make these cuts,” Gillespie said, “Your taxes probably won’t go down.”

While the board did not respond to comments by the audience, Board President Jed Benish did answer one question on the timing of the report and potential decision. Benish said the report and possible action come before the board now because of upcoming contract negotiations. He told the audience that if cuts or changes are made, the decision must take place sooner than later for the benefit of affected teachers.

“We can’t wait until the end of the school year,” Benish said, allowing that would be too late for either those leaving or whose jobs might change.

In wrapping up her portion of the presentation, Miller set out the board three basic options. They can: 1) take no action and continue on as they are; 2) make staff cuts through attrition, simply not replacing retiring or leaving staff; 3) make cuts through the RIF (Reduction In Force) process, eliminating unnecessary positions.

The board may also make other changes to the proposal, but intends to make its decision soon.

 

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