Cutbacks Hover Over Teacher Programs in Cincinnati

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Some of the nation's most innovative teacher-quality programs could be in jeopardy as decisionmakers for the Cincinnati public schools scramble to identify $20 million to cut from next year's budget.

Nationally recognized programs that train teachers, mentor new educators, and provide professional development are all vulnerable as administrators look for ways to slash $10 million permanently from the 1999-2000 budget, said Jan Leslie, a spokeswoman for the district. An additional $10 million in per-pupil spending must also be eliminated. Where those cuts will be made is being left up to principals and could be reversed if a new funding source is found.

'Looking at Everything'

The school board made the decision to reduce the $380 million budget earlier this month following an Ohio Supreme Court ruling prohibiting school districts from issuing debt beyond the current fiscal year, said Dick Gardner, the treasurer of the Cincinnati schools. In the past, the 47,000-student district in southwestern Ohio has overextended itself by taking out bank notes and creating a large debt.

The school board had contemplated asking voters to approve an increase in the property tax this May, but it decided the measure would fare poorly at that time. A referendum will likely be on the ballot in November, when more voters are expected to turn out.

"There has been no decision [on cutting teacher-quality programs] yet, but folks are looking at everything," Ms. Leslie said. Decisions are likely to be made this week, she added.

A letter the district sent last month, however, informed the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers that the acclaimed $3.7 million Career in Teaching program would be retooled and its funding slashed 25 percent, said Tom Mooney, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate.

The union and the district have worked cooperatively to forge and carry out the initiatives designed to improve the quality of teaching.

The career program has prepared more than 400 educators to become master teachers since it was launched in 1990. About 265 lead teachers earn annual stipends of $4,500 to $5,500 to train other educators.

"We shouldn't allow this sudden financial blip to cause us to dismantle more than a decade of progress on raising professional standards," Mr. Mooney said.

The district's peer-assistance and -evaluation program could also be a casualty. The program, which cost the Cincinnati system $1.5 million this school year, pays experienced educators to advise and evaluate all new teachers as well as struggling veterans. During the past school year, about 15 percent of the 213 teachers evaluated received less than satisfactory ratings. The district offers such teachers support to improve their performance. If they don't progress adequately, they are removed from the classroom, which has happened to more than 70 teachers since its inception a decade ago.

Meager Staff Development?

The district's lauded professional-practice schools, considered the cornerstone of the teacher-preparation program, are also in trouble, Mr. Mooney said. The district budgeted $218,000 for the program this school year.

A partnership with the University of Cincinnati's college of education, the professional-practice program offers yearlong internships to fifth-year student-educators at 10 local public schools. University students spend time in the classroom teaching while earning a teaching certificate and a master's degree. More than 100 students participated this year, said Arlene Mitchell, an associate dean for academic affairs.

Ninety-eight percent of the students who participate in the professional-practice school receive job offers in the Cincinnati district or surrounding ones by graduation.

If the programs are cut, Mr. Mooney said, only "an infinitesimal amount of money" will go into professional development.

Vol. 18, Issue 27, Page 3

Published in Print: March 17, 1999, as Cutbacks Hover Over Teacher Programs in Cincinnati
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