MONTROSE – In an era of budget cuts and restraints, the Montrose County School District is doing what it can to tackle its bigger issues.
Over the past few months, the district has worked diligently to disperse information to the community about the need to improve student achievement, its declining budget and its effect on staff and curriculum, and facility needs.
But adding to those struggles is the fact that the district will lose its assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the end of the year, and that its hiring freeze may have done more harm than good.
On Jan. 10, Assistant Superintendent Sheryl Solow announced that she and Superintendent Mark MacHale came to a mutual agreement that Solow would leave the district on June 30, at the end of her contract.
“This decision was based upon differences in leadership and management style,” Solow said in a statement to district employees. “I will continue to work diligently with our district staff and community to support the many initiatives for which I have been responsible over the past [four-and-a-half] years.”
Solow's responsibilities encompass the supervision of all programs related to students and parents, she said. This includes curriculum and instruction; assessments; English as a Second Language; federal programs; student services; technology; after school, early childhood and summer programs; professional development for licensed and classified staff; and state-required plans.
Solow emphasized that she has not yet retired, and that she remains eager to continue using her skills as an educator and leader until her contract expires in June.
As for filling her position, MacHale said he recognizes that he will need a new assistant superintendent, or maybe a deputy, but that he not sure exactly how that position will be structured. He said he’ll be taking input from district leaders and school principal, and hopes to have the position posted shortly.
Solow's position won't be the only one to be filled, MacHale said.
“A hiring freeze is a strategy, but that won't work anymore,” he said. “It can affect an organization sometimes in a negative way. We lost key places, such as a grant writer.”
The district lifted its hiring freeze in August, and since has been working to fill its grant-writer and community relations position, held by longtime employee Linda Gann, who retired in September 2010.
MacHale said it is “foolish” not to hire back a grant-writer when they pay for their own salary through the work they contribute.
The district also has only two information technology employees for the whole district, MacHale added.
“But the real work is done by the teachers,” he said. “We need them back, because they affect the whole community.”
District budget cuts – more than $7 million over the past several years – have resulted in the lost of 110 positions, mostly through attrition.
But bringing back some of the district's workforce won't be easy as making cuts mandated by changes in state funding.
The district can expected roughly $983,000 in cuts from state funding for next year, according to the Colorado Department of Education, although that number is in flux, and changing weekly. Not having an exact number is frustrating, MacHale said.
“It's a bit of a broken system. It is the most important thing the state does, but it is really struggling,” he said. “The federal and state governments don't help much. It is the responsibility of the community. … This is a local issue.”
Another community outreach meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 p.m. in the district's boardroom offices, at 930 Colorado Ave., in Montrose.
Contact Kati O'Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org