County schools face program cuts

By Stephen S. Glass

Star Staff

   Carter County Schools may have to cut as many as eight of nine enrichment programs after December unless a freeze is lifted on state funding for extended contracts for teachers who spend extra time in the classroom, says Gary Smith, secondary education supervisor for county schools.
   Smith said Thursday that teachers with extended contracts have continued to teach classes before and after school so far this year without guarantee of reimbursement for their time and effort.
   Though the state legislature allocated money for extended contracts and enrichment programs for the year, 75 percent of the money has been indefinitely withheld from schools statewide. Carter County Schools have been guaranteed only $48,000 so far this year and will likely not see more funding unless legislators in Nashville can get to the table and shore up a growing revenue deficit estimated now at $300 million for the fiscal year.
   Well-wishing from legislators who say they "hope" funding will be restored later in the year has done little to reassure educators who are on the front lines and bracing for program cuts.
   Carter County Schools received $313,000 in enrichment funds last year, most of which was used to supplement pay for teachers who support programs outside of regularly scheduled school hours.
   "The $48,000 we've been guaranteed this year is not enough to pay for teachers' extended contracts and keep these programs going," Smith said.
   Smith said the programs that may have to be cut include tutorials for students who are struggling with their course work; summer school courses; preschool programs to prepare children for kindergarten (not Head Start, which is federally funded); and Early Bird classes in English, art, computer science, journalism, drama, and foreign languages for high school students.
   Smith says that make-up classes for students who have exceeded the number of allowable absences per semester will also have to be cut unless the state provides funding.
   "It looks as if we're going to have no choice but to cut these programs," Smith said.
   The freeze in funding has come at an incredibly bad time for schools, when students who entered high school this year are expected to pass state-mandated Gateway Exams in English II, Biology I and Algebra I before they can receive their diplomas.
   "We have to offer remediation to students who fail these tests or fail these courses," said Smith. Remediation may mean that students need extra help outside of schools hours, Smith said. With no money guaranteed from the state to pay teachers for those extra hours, Smith says the system will "do what [it] can" to help students who are in danger of falling behind.
   Smith says that graduation requirements will be even tougher for students who enter high school in the next few years. New Gateway Exams will be added over the next two years, and by 2005 all students will be required to pass exams in 10 subject areas before they can graduate.
   "I don't believe that any of us yet realize the impact these tests will have on students," Smith said. "This is not just something that will affect them today; it will affect them for years to come -- possibly for the rest of their lives."