PORTLAND — The School Committee last week voted unanimously against the interim superintendent’s cost-cutting proposal to immediately shift the elementary school sex education program to regular classroom teachers.
But the two options contained within that proposal were expected to be considered as part of the discussion for next year’s budget, which have already begun.
Meanwhile, the district must still find as much as $200,000 in savings in the current budget to offset a $1.8 million curtailment in state funding to the schools. Already, $1.6 million in savings have been realized because of over-budgeting last year.
Interim Superintendent Jeanne Whynot-Vickers said the district will continue to consider cutting positions as they become available and work towards reducing the use of substitute teachers.
Whynot-Vickers said she is confident that strategy will be enough to meet the curtailment without having to rely on measures like cutting spring sports programs and using furlough days, where school staff would be forced to take unpaid days off.
“It is unlikely that sports or any of the fallback options will need to be used this year,” she said.
Although no agreement has been reached with unions on furlough days, each of which would save the district $180,000, Why-Vickers said principals, teachers and other employees have agreed one or two delayed pay days, if the district needs to balance the budget.
“I have been pleased, but certainly not surprised, to have our (staff) join with us so willingly to take necessary actions to find savings, while keeping those cuts as far away from students as possible,” Whynot-Vickers said.
The district has already saved $170,000 by eliminating two custodians, a secretary, an English teacher and a part-time guidance counselor. The district had hoped to save another $40,000 by filling an empty middle school health position, which is required by the state, with the district’s certified sex education teacher.
Although there was no support this year for the proposed changes to the Family Living Program, the committee is expected to explore the proposal as part of it’s fiscal 2010 budget. 
That could inevitably revive the sex education debate, which drew more than a dozen health professionals, teachers and parents to a public hearing two weeks ago. Opponents resisted the changes because they felt a certified, non-classroom teacher was needed to create a sensitive and open environment for kids to ask embarrassing questions they may not be comfortable asking their regular classroom teachers, who may not have the desire or expertise to answer them.
School Committee member Kathleen Snyder, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said this week that she hopes to convene a study group to look at how students and the sex education curriculum would be affected by each of the two proposals.
“There was a will by most School Committee members to consider options for the delivery for the Family Living curriculum,” she said.
Snyder, who emphasized that curriculum would not be examined, said the committee opposed the proposed changes this year because of the timing and lingering questions about how it would affect students.
A closer examination of the proposal is needed because the curtailment of state education funds is expected to carry over into next year’s budget. Much of the $1.6 million in savings already identified by the district in the current budget, however, are not expected to recur.
“We can continue to keep doing things the same way and expect different results,” Snyder said.  “We have to be genuine when we we’re willing to do things differently.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

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