Ames community members share budget concerns to school board

The Ames Community School Board heard from members of the public who shared their concerns over the board’s plan to address budget cuts which they say will lessen the amount of AP courses offered and continue the decline in enrollment.

Superintendent Julious Lawson said he would send out communication in the upcoming week to provide clarity on the “misinformation and misinterpretations” of the district’s budgeting process.

The issue was not on the agenda and could not be discussed by the board, but Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hawkins said there would be no reduction in courses offered.

“I heard in the conversation tonight, question and concern about AP math courses or AP chemistry according to [Ames Acting Principal Kenneth] Damron those are to run fully,” Hawkins said. “I heard concern that […] we may not be able to offer all the French [classes,] no, that’s not the case.”

Hawkins said while there would be no reduction in AP courses, there have been discussions in rotating out AP biology.

Alejandro Plastina, associate professor, said he has not seen a public document identifying where budget cuts would have the least impact.

“Unfortunately I must conclude that tough budgeting decisions were made with complete disregard for community input and are therefore tainted with questionable transparency,” Plastina said.

The school board initially discussed the 2023-24 proposed budget during their April 10 meeting and approved it on April 24.

Surya Mallapragada said she heard that AP calculus, biology and chemistry may not be offered due to staff members leaving and not being replaced.

“It’s not just offering the courses,” Mallapragada said. “You need to have the teachers qualified to teach these courses because the College Board recommends teachers to have special training to be able to teach these courses.”

Steph Schares is an eighth grade health and sixth, seventh and eighth grade extended learning program teacher at Ames Middle School and said that having three staff members for the extended learning program is crucial.

“Currently we are staffed at 1.8 [full time equivalent],” Schares said. “I have 0.7, my colleagues are staffed at 0.6 and 0.5. The proposal was initially to cut my 0.5 colleague completely leaving two teachers.”

Schares said that reducing the staff from three to two and by 0.5 full time equivalent is “suboptimal” and will “greatly decrease” services to students.

“To give you an idea of the numbers I am dealing with, we serve about 100 to 115 students per grade level per year which is about one third of the student body,” Shares said. “This is not elitism, this is one third of the student body.”

Additionally, Schares said that she understood the budget cuts were not the fault of the school board and presented a plan to the board that would involve pay cuts to maintain services at Ames Middle School.

“I am willing to drop from 0.7 to 0.4,” Shares said. “My other two colleagues, who’ve approved this message, are willing to go down to 0.5 and 0.4. This still adds up to the collective cut of 0.5, which was the target.”

Shares said the plan was proposed at the building level and has not been approved.