Laura Seitz, Deseret News
OGDEN — Part-time reading assistants are the latest casualties in Ogden School District's ongoing efforts to close a budget deficit in the face of federal sequestration and rising costs.
Superintendent Brad Smith said between 20 and 25 of the district's 250 early reading interventionists and staff assistants will likely be cut to save money. The remaining reading coaches will no longer be a fixture at elementary schools but will be distributed based on school size and reading proficiency, Smith said.
"We're going to look at how we deploy them across our district instead of deploying one unit per school," he said.
The announcement follows the recent closing of Ogden's community swimming pools and the elimination of about 20 library media specialist positions.
Smith said the position of early reading interventionist is part time, does not require teaching certification and is funded largely through federal dollars. That funding has been diminished by the federal budget cuts known as sequestration at the same time that new regulations in the Affordable Care Act require employees who work more than 30 hours per week to receive full health insurance benefits.
The district is also working to address the lingering effects of the economic recession, which left the district with a roughly $2.7 million deficit.
"We’re trying to balance all of those things at once," Smith said of the financial challenges facing the district. "Consistently being able to juggle five balls at once is an impressive trick."
Shannon Robins, an Ogden staff assistant, said she and the rest of the district's reading coaches were told at a meeting Friday that the program was being restructured and that they would need to reapply for fewer positions. Robins said she left the meeting discouraged, with more questions than answers.
"I love what I do," she said, "and I feel like we are so effective with these students, and it’s a shame that it’s not more valued by the school system."
Robins also questioned why district officials would target the program, which allows students to receive individualized help with reading during the school day.
"We're cheap and we're effective," she said. "For this short period of time, these kids are able to work in small groups and get exactly what they need at their level. I think that will be affected and more demands will be made on classroom teachers to meet the needs of a pretty diverse population in our school district."
Smith said the district will save $260,000 a year as a result of closing its two community swimming pools and $931,000 from the changes to its library staffing. District officials are still working through the specifics of the early reading intervention program and do not yet know exactly how many positions will be cut or how much the district will save in costs.
"We haven't been able to crunch those numbers yet," Smith said. "It was only last Friday that we received the final word on what our sequestration cuts would be."
After the recession, the decision was made by the school board to not increase class sizes, raise taxes or impose furloughs as a solution to shrinking revenues, said Ogden School District spokeswoman Donna Corby. The district has the goal of holding employees harmless, but any financial decisions made by officials naturally affect personnel, Corby said.
"We're restructuring," she said. "Whenever you start restructuring things, it involves people."
As of Monday, there were no new announcements of layoffs or potential restructuring in the district, Corby said. But district employees whose positions are grant-based have been made aware that future changes could be necessary, she said.
"We have just received the information we need to be able to do a very serious analysis now of all programs," Corby said.
The district has also held two public meetings to gauge interest in a tax increase to fund the reopening of the community pools, with an additional two meetings on the subject scheduled. Smith said he was generally pleased with the turnout at the meetings and the level of interest from the community.
"At both of the meetings, feedback on the pool situation has been almost universally positive," he said.
Contributing: Mike Anderson
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