Letters to the Editor

Paraeducators are critical to success | Federal Way letters

On May 10, Superintendent Rob Neu presented his recommended school budget for 2011-2012 school year to the Federal Way School Board.

At a school budget meeting a couple of weeks earlier, I gave the superintendent a very important message: “Staffing cuts should be your last priority.” Unfortunately, in his budget, 37.5 percent of

the $8 million in budget cuts will come from staffing. Of particular concern to me and many other educators is their plan to eliminate paraeducators from all-day kindergarten (ADK) classes.

At the May 24 board meeting, there was at least 15 ADK teachers and paras in attendance and eight ADK teachers, paras and parents testified as to why it was critical to retain these paras. If the board members do not get this message and rescind the cut, I believe they could be making a serious mistake. I have worked in these classes and know firsthand how critical the paras are in working with struggling students, assessment testing and dealing with behavior issues.

A former Federal Way first/second grade teacher who has taught kindergarten classes summed up the issue succinctly:

“I know firsthand what it would be like if the para support were cut. If I didn’t have the para help, our kindergarten students would not have made the progress they did last year. No one understands the energy and teamwork that is needed unless they have taught kindergarten. No student was left behind; all students with paras as well as the teachers helped all our kindergarten students have success. I give a lot of the credit for student success to our para support. I would gladly be willing to take a cut in my pay to keep our paras. It takes a team to effectively build a strong foundation and to give all our students a great start, so please do not make this cut. As someone put it, most of what you learn about life is at the kindergarten level. If you have a strong foundation, our education system will stay strong even through the rough times. I am convinced that kindergarten is the foundation of all learning. Having taught kindergarten in several districts, I am convinced that without a strong kindergarten year, our students will be greatly impacted the rest of their elementary years. We need all the support we can get to keep our foundation strong.”

Before we can address where the $8 million in cuts must come from, we must first ask the $64,000 question: What is our most important priority? Is it athletics, music, physical education classes, etc., because there were no cuts in these programs? Or is it, as most educators believe, to provide a quality education to all our students?

If your answer is the latter, which is what I thought our mission was, then how do we get from Point A (where we are now) to Point B (next year after we cut $8 million)? Certainly not by cutting staffing, which should be the most important part of our budget. The one exception could be cutting staff that aren’t performing up to par in helping us accomplish our mission.

Everyone knows times are tough and the school board must make some very difficult choices. That is why they were elected. As a former board member has mentioned many times, we don’t have to have a total sports program. Many can be cut until the budget funding situation improves and/or other sports can be put on “self-sustaining” basis by finding other revenue sources to support it. The bottom line is that students must come first, and all really means all as other “non-essential programs” need to be eliminated until our funding situation improves. One thing is for sure: many cuts will be controversial and will not meet everyone’s approval.

So who is to blame for this ongoing problem? First on my list is the Legislature for failing to meet the state’s “paramount duty” to fully fund education. Second is the voters for their failure to pass the state income tax measure on the rich, which could have provided the additional revenue the state needed to avoid these painful budget cuts.

Gary Robertson, Federal Way

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