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May 9, 2012 10:35 AM by AP

Caddo school board attempts to agree on cuts

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Making changes is keeping Caddo School Board members at work as they struggle to approve next year's $493 million budget.

Although the board approved a plan last month that cut about 33 kindergarten and first-grade teachers as part of a new staffing formula, members are trying to reverse that decision.

To help the budget, officials recommended moving from a steadfast rule of 22 students per teacher at a school to a rounded number. That means schools like Cherokee Park Elementary and J.S. Clark Elementary will have some classrooms at the state limit of 26 students per teacher. The move will save the district just more than $2 million.

The Times reports Superintendent Gerald Dawkins said no staff would be laid off, and the cuts could be absorbed through attrition.

"We're trying to promote early childhood reading rates, and adding kids to a classroom doesn't help that at all," board member Charlotte Crawley said.

Barry Rachal has asked district officials to determine whether it would be viable to place paraprofessionals or aides in classes with more than 23 students to alleviate the pressure on teachers. That plan would cost the district about $500,000.

As it stands, the budget will cause the district to dip into reserves, not uncharted territory, to fill a nearly $1.9 million gap.

Finance Director Jim Lee said the district has a record of finishing better than its proposed budget and anticipates the budget will actually show a surplus by the end of next year's budget.

Meanwhile, board members are also trying to make sense of a proposal presented by Dawkins to outsource the alternative schools. The proposal calls for nationally recognized Ombudsman to provide services to middle and high school students or short- and long-term suspension or expulsion and students in need of credit recovery.

It would also save the district $3 million to $5 million annually and close Hamilton Terrace Alternative School in favor of four strategically placed locations throughout the parish, Dawkins said.

"The Ingersoll campus will remain open; however, the Hamilton Terrace campus would close under this plan in favor of sites around town," he said.

The board is expected to approve its 2012-13 budget

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