(Editor's note: This story reports on some of the comments received from the public at the Le Mars Community School board's Monday night meeting, which dealt with budget cuts for the 2008-09 school year. Tomrrow read the board's response.)
The Le Mars Community School Board heard from a cross-section of the district's residents Monday evening about the budget cuts the board had proposed.
After hearing comments, the board approved cuts including the elementary guidance position; the Transitional Kindergarten program; a half time music position; the high school tutorial program, the school liaison with Juvenile Court Services and the high school TAPS program.
The welding courses of the Trades and Industries Program (T & I) was also cut, but the board chose to retain the auto mechanics portion of the program.
Parker Maguson, third grade student at Kluckhohn said because his birthday was in June, his pre-school teacher told his parents he would benefit from the (then) new TK program. "I was a little behind in my learning, not ready for kindergarten," he said. "I learned so much in Mrs. Rohrs' class that I started going to Challenge when I got in first grade and I still go now.
"I hope you don't take TK out of my school so Mrs. Rohrs can still be the teacher," he said.
Several parents came forward to add their support to the Transitional Kindergarten program.
Sheri Beitelspacher said TK was the best thing academically for her younger son who is now in third grade. "He came out of there being able to read short stories and write. It's not a 'glorified pre-school'," she said.
"I'd rather see TK expanded. It's a jump start for students."
Melissa Alcorn said she had received 430 signatures on petitions she had placed around town in an attempt to save the TK program.
Another mother, Christi Calhoun, said she has seen her daughter grow in the TK program. "My friends are envious of the program we have here. It's a great marketing tool for the community," she added. With the uncertainty of the TK program, however, the Calhouns have enrolled their twin sons in another TK program in the area. "They won't go to kindergarten," she said.
TK teacher Kim Rohrs addressed the board on the importance of the TK program. "There is a nationwide push for TK," she said. "TK is the bridge between pre-school and kindergarten. Development is not magical."
Trades & Industries (T & I)
Emily Calamanco, an LCS 11th grader, told the board how the T & I program has helped her. A first year auto student, Calmanco said before she was enrolled in T & I, she skipped school a lot and her grades were low. "I just didn't want to sit in class. I liked to do things. Auto gives me that opportunity to get in there and get greasy, and actually do something in order to learn."
"Now I've learned attitude, teamwork, patience and goals that I can reach. My grades have gone up to As and Bs. I'm not tardy and I don't skip classes," she said. "My mom says I have taken a 360 degree turn.
Clint Britt, a 2005 graduate, said, "I was able to take T & I through my high school years which allowed me to get my job basically before I even graduated. I started fulltime at Gus Pech the day after I graduated." He suggested getting together with businesses town to get support for the program, work with area welders, as well as having people bring in their cars to be worked on.
Marcel Hyer, a 1994 graduate, went through the T & I program, joining the U.S. Marine Corp after graduation. He then attended college studying criminal psychology. "There was a point in time, and about $15,000 later, I figured out, this is not what I wanted to do," he said. "Basically what saved me was the T & I program."
Hyer remembered his love for welding while in T & I, and now works in that field. "I love what I do now," he said.
"The question is, what do we need to do to keep this going?" he asked.
Kody Miller of Le Mars went through the T & I program and is co-owner of Kinwal Tire and Auto Repair. "I had problems in school when I was younger. Didn't know what I wanted to do."
"I went through auto program figured out that's what I wanted to do . . . Now I'm self-employed, do it every day, work on cars, I love it," he said. "I wouldn't be there if it wasn't for T & I. I want to see my kids go through the program if it's still there, so let's do what we can to keep it here."
Chris Dorr, class of 2003, gave board members a book chronicling his accomplishments going through the T & I program. He participated in competitions at Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa Lakes Community College and took first place in the VICA state competition "which qualified me to go to the national competition in Kansas City, Mo., in June 2003." At the national VICA competition, Dorr brought home a second place finish for Le Mars Community High School and the state of Iowa.
The win also brought opportunities for many scholarships totaling $50,000. Dorr was also a member of the National Honor Society at LCHS and was in orchestra from fourth grade through his senior year.
"Students to go T & I because they want to be there," he told the board.
Elementary Guidance counselor
Elementary guidance counselors Angie Harder and Wendy Plendl spoke of their work in the classroom with the elementary students. Harder has resigned her position. The two go into the elementary classrooms and meet with nearly 500 students in six days, teaching students about character, conflict resolution, anger management and other skills along with individual time with students.
Students bring a lot of issues to school such as divorce, teasing, academic problems, harassment, sexual and domestic abuse, according to Harder, and school counselors are uniquely qualified to deal with those issues.
"We give students hope," said Plendl, who has been in the district 15 years. "I hope you will replace this position opening as soon as financially possible."
High school TAPS
Doug Martin, who teaches physics, anatomy and electronics in the high school, asked for a show of hands from students in the room who had used the TAPS program at the high school. Many raised their hands.
"I get the 'cream of the crop' of students and they go in there," Martin said.
He explained while the program helps those with attendance problems, tardies and discipline issues, it also allows students to makeup a test at a time they can take it. "To date, 2,500 tests have been given or retaken in the TAPS room when it works into their (the student's) schedules," Martin said. "We have underclassmen who are concerned about this," he emphasized.
Jan Musson, elementary special education teacher at Clark, challenged the board to "think outside the box" for the TK program, suggesting running a double program, morning and afternoon, with one teacher, therefore assisting more students and allowing the students to remain in the LCS system.
She also looked at summer driver's education, saying that perhaps this is the time that it goes private. She suggested selling the Camp Quest property and perhaps going halftime on the middle school elementary principal position which is open.
Bill Young told the board he felt it was worth the risk to do one year of deficit spending if it could mean keeping the programs in place. "From what I've read, all these programs are worthwhile," he said.
Former board member Chuck Holz addressed the board, saying, "Back in the early '90s we went through a financial struggle at that time. We ended up having to cut a lot of programs. I think a majority of those programs were reinstated over the years as things got better. I encourage you that whatever cuts you make you make it with the assumption that most of those programs be reinstated," Holz said. "T & I , if you ever cut, it will never be reinstated just for the fact of cost to reinstate."
Carol Hallberg, who has taught for 25 years in five districts, said she's seen this problem come up in many places. She asked the board to consider teacher/student ratios in the classroom, as well as suggested combining field trips for classes. "We need to penny pinch everywhere and not hit just one program," she said.
Teacher and alumnus Renee Buss said her increase in salary for next year would go to the fund which was set up with the Le Mars Community Schools Foundation to help save the programs. "I'm hoping others will follow. to get us through the crisis for one year so we can all figure this out."
Monte Brent, a 2003 graduate, said he spoke on behalf of all the programs, T & I especially. "Everybody came out tonight because they have pride. Pride in this community and they want to see their kids have good education. That's why we live here in Le Mars. Hopefully we can sit down and figure the problem out. The issue is how are we going to fix the problem. Let's get it fixed," he said.