High school staff reductions set to impact teachers, programs

Concerned teachers weigh in on the impacts of staffing changes for the second year in a row

By Jonas Lord, Managing Editor

With new budget cuts being proposed by the district, an aura of uncertainty has swept across the minds of the wider LHS community.

The Lawrence Public Schools Schools Board is weighing an administrative proposal to increase student-staff ratios to 30 students per teacher. The proposal, if approved, will cut staff and faculty until the ratio standard is met. As a result, teachers and the programs they teach might be eliminated.

CTE department chair and teacher Kimberly Hawks is especially concerned about further cuts to electives and how they will be permanently impacted.

“If we cut the program and we no longer buy the supplies and the equipment needed to teach that program, it’s really hard to turn around in five, seven years and now buy all that equipment again cause we need it updated and hire a teacher,” Hawks said. “I really feel like, once you make the cut, that program is gone.”

Hawks knows firsthand about the possible difficulties that could come with elective cuts. Her business curriculum was cut down to one class, Accounting, at the beginning of the school year. Hawks now has to teach Drafting, Architecture, and Engineering, all subjects that she knows very little about.

“It’s actually been the hardest year of teaching I’ve ever experienced, and this is my sixteenth year of full-time teaching,” she said. 

Because of this difficulty and uncertainty, Hawks has considered quitting, even beginning to research other job opportunities as preparation for a possible lay-off.

“I continue to look for jobs right now,” she said. “I hate admitting that because I love LHS and I love the students here and I love my colleagues, but ultimately, I’m worried about my position in the district and if they’ll keep me. This is where I wanna stay but I also need to provide for my family, so if I’m not gonna have a job, then I gotta be looking.”

Many of these possible elective cuts are dependent on class sizes, with the district looking at a target ratio of thirty students to one teacher. Senior Schruti Mallik can attest to this change in budgetary policy.

Mallik was involved in the now-cut Latin program. The program was small but tight-knit, which is what Mallik mainly enjoyed about it. They feel like the cut is representative of indifference towards students on the part of the district.

“Yes, Latin didn’t have the largest enrollment, but it was a really beneficial class,” they said. “The people in that class in all of the hours, it was a very important class to them, and we tried to push back a lot, and despite that, they still cut it, and I think that’s just, in the future, setting the precedent that it doesn’t really matter what students want as much as it matters what the district wants.”

Principal Jessica Bassett is primarily concerned about this ratio and how it could impact core classes as well, both on mental and physical levels.

“To get all of those students into one class is always challenging, and then the other thing that becomes difficult is the individuality piece in terms of trying to identify everything that every student needs and trying to meet those needs as a teacher,” Bassett said

The presence of core electives is also a big concern on Bassett’s mind.

“Even within the core content electives, there are multiple English electives and social studies electives,” she said. “Will we be able to continue that, that would be questionable, and if so, we would not have as many sections of that available for students that would fit within their schedule.”

According to Bassett, the budget cuts to electives and other possible cuts were derived from a desire to increase pay for teachers.

“One reason why they’re working in this way or even thinking this way is because they really wanna give teachers raises so it feels as if to get the raises, we have to give people and that’s a little scary,” she said.

To many in the district, including Hawks, the cuts are an absolute necessity, but the austere manner in which they are presented is very anxiety-inducing.

“My heart is very heavy as I look at the cuts that our district is forced to make,” she said. “No matter where the cuts are or how many, it’s gonna hurt somebody. It’s gonna hurt a student or students, it’s gonna hurt teachers and other staff and that makes me sad for our district.”