More Foreign Language Budget Cuts Looming

The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, school board voted to end the system’s foreign language instruction in the fourth grade to save money.  The following article from The Winston-Salem Journal (June 4, 2010) by Wesley Young discusses the cuts:

With state budget decisions still up in the air, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth school board approved a plan last night to shave about $670,000 from the school system’s budget by ending foreign-language instruction in the fourth grade.

It’s not that board members don’t care about teaching Spanish and French, or saving the 12 or so positions that will be lost, they said. But school officials needed direction from the board on how to plan for the 2010-11 school year.

The formal adoption of the school system’s budget should come in August, said Kerry Crutchfield, the system’s finance director. If the system finds out rather quickly that state cuts won’t be as deep as expected, he said, it would be possible to restore the foreign-language teaching positions.

But that is not likely, he said.

“I would be very surprised if the state budget was good enough to allow that,” Crutchfield said after the meeting.

School officials had already decided to cut third-grade foreign language next year. By cutting fourth-grade foreign language as well, only fifth-grade students in elementary school will have foreign-language instruction next year. There are now 39 foreign-language teachers in the elementary schools.

“I’m disappointed in the decision to cut instructional positions,” said Leslie Baldwin, the system’s foreign-language program specialist. “They could have talked about other positions that are not instructional and don’t touch children.”

Specifically, Baldwin said, the schools could have made cuts to clerical staff and others not directly involved in teaching.

But school officials said that they already have made cuts to clerical staff.

Superintendent Don Martin said that there is also the question of how effective foreign-language classes are in elementary school. The problem is not that the elementary students don’t learn languages well — in fact, school officials say, the younger the better. But the way middle school is set up, foreign language becomes an elective and many students don’t continue their studies. Then in high school they end up having to start all over.

Martin said that the schools might be able to eventually do more foreign-language instruction in middle school, but that would be part of a major middle-school restructuring that the system will consider during the coming year as it prepares for 2011-12, when the budget crunch is expected to be even worse. That restructuring would involve scrapping the team organization that keeps groups of teachers and students together in middle school.

The schools’ plan for 2010-11 does call for saving $100,000 by hiring cleaners on contract as custodians retire or resign.

But the bulk of the savings — about $570,000 — comes from the foreign-language cut. Even so, school administrators are $76,000 short of a balanced budget.

The problem is that local school officials do not yet know how deeply the state will cut spending for schools. Assuming the worst, school officials have planned $7.5 million in budget cuts and came into last night’s meeting still needing to cut $746,000 from the proposed budget.

Donny Lambeth, the chairman of the school board, proposed waiting to see how the state acts, but nonetheless voted in favor of the tentative cuts. The vote was 7-2, with members Jane Goins and Elisabeth Motsinger voting against.

Although the plan is to cut 12.5 foreign-language teaching positions, that’s half the number officials thought they might have to cut.

“We are saving jobs by doing it,” board member Buddy Collins said of the budget plan.

wyoung@wsjournal.com

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