by Doug Nadvornick & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & hings were going smoothly Monday night at a forum on the proposed 2007-08 budget at Chase Middle School. Superintendent Brian Benzel had explained why he believes the legislature should increase funding for basic education. Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson had explained a proposal to cut librarians, custodians and other support staff, to close Pratt School and to reduce after-school sports programs. Then Benzel dismissed the formal meeting so that more than 100 parents and teachers gathered could meet in small groups with Benzel and about a dozen of his colleagues.

That's when the script for the meeting changed.

"Could we stay together so that everyone can hear what people are asking and you can respond to all of us?" asked a woman in the back of the room. Benzel relented and for more than half an hour answered questions that challenged the administrators' budget proposal.

Two men pressed the superintendent about why the district needed 95 "instructional coaches" to help teachers in the classroom. "So you pay $6 million to help teachers who aren't doing their jobs?" challenged one of the men.

"They provide professional development in real time to teachers," answered Benzel. "And most of the coaches are funded by restricted federal and state grants. We only fund about 10 coaches out of our general fund."

"Then you should cut those 10," said one.

Others chided officials for proposing to save money by adding a student to the average class size for district schools. "Class size is the single most important factor in student achievement," said one woman. "This would be taking a step backward. Why is that even on the list?"

A young woman in the front of the room criticized administrators' decision to close the childcare center at Havermale High School because new government requirements would require the district to spend thousands of dollars to expand the facility.

"Closing that day care would reduce the number of teen mothers who want to finish high school," she said. "It's the only child care that's available to many of them."

Normally, school officials don't propose the next budget until June with the school board voting to approve it in August. This year, Benzel says, the proposal was released early to give the public more time to review it and to call legislators to lobby for more basic education funding.

Spokane school administrators will hold a second budget forum Thursday night at 7 pm at Glover Middle School.

Mardi Bras

Through March 3
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