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Students petition District 424 board to keep teachers

GENOA – Julie Sorensen has embraced a learning opportunity that arose with Genoa-Kingston School District 424’s plans to lay off 14 teachers at the end of the academic year.

As Sorensen prepares for what could be her final weeks in Genoa classrooms, the visual arts teacher said she has been amazed and inspired by the civic engagement of her sixth-grade students.

A day after school board members decided March 19 to cut 14 teaching positions as part of a plan to trim $600,000 from the next academic year’s budget, some of Sorensen’s students came to school with posters and petitions. They wanted to show support for the staff and convince board members to reverse their decision.

The petition has received signatures from students throughout the middle school and could be presented to the board at its April 30 meeting.

“This isn’t even about our jobs anymore; it’s about the kids fighting for what they believe in,” Sorensen said. “A few of them are concerned it will not work, and I just told them I can’t guarantee it will make a difference. But at the very least it’s a great education in the right way to go about civic participation.”

The student-led initiative has met no resistance from administration. Genoa-Kingston Middle School Principal Brett McPherson declined to comment on the situation, but Sorensen said posters in support of staff have remained on the hallway walls and students are allowed to circulate the petitions before and after school and during lunch.

The decision to eliminate 14 teaching positions was part of larger cuts that included freshman sports and dozens of support staff positions.

The district’s education fund reserves – the amount of money in savings at the end of the school year – have dropped from $8.5 million in June 2008 to a projected $6.4 million in June 2013.

The school board did approve additional spending in December with a new contract for Superintendent Joe Burgess. The contract bumps his annual salary roughly $9,000 a year from this school year to the 2016-17 school year. Under the contract, his salary will increase $149,500 to $188,740 in that time, which is about a 6 percent raise each year.

The district will also pay for the entire contribution to his pension fund – which is roughly 8.5 percent of his final salary – and cover the full cost of hospitalization, major medical and dental insurance for him and his immediate family members.

Burgess said the contract has not been a source of contention with faculty and staff.
Burgess said he would give the students’ petition serious consideration and believes the overhauled board would discuss the matter at its first meeting April 30. Four new members will join the seven-person unit at that meeting.

Teachers could still be recalled and freshman sports reinstated if the new board is willing to spend more of its reserve funds, or state officials approve a budget with more education funding than expected.

“I always encourage kids to take initiative,” Burgess said of the petition. “It’s a peaceful way to protest and make their point, and they have a right to do that. For myself, it will be taken seriously.”

If you go
What: District 424 school board meeting
When: 7 p.m. April 30
Where: Community Room, Genoa-Kingston High School, 980 Park Ave., Genoa

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