Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Ludlow halts classes to plea for school funding

District 1 of 5 in N.Ky. to march on Frankfort

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LUDLOW - This close-knit school district is one of five in Northern Kentucky that's canceling classes Wednesdayto march on Frankfort and draw attention to school funding woes.

"If we go through a couple of years with the kind of cuts that (state legislators) are talking about in education, those kids will lose an opportunity that they won't get back,'' said Gary McCormick, chairman of the English department at Ludlow High School.

Upset that the Ludlow Independent School District stands to lose $500,000 in state funds for the upcoming school year on top of a $200,000 cut made this year, educators and parents here were among the first to signal their support for Wednesday's statewide rally.

The rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol is being organized by the Kentucky Education Association, the state's teachers' union.

Ludlow, an Ohio River town of 4,409, has about 1,000 students in its public school system. In contrast, Boone County Schools, Northern Kentucky's largest school district with about 14,000 students, is growing by about 800 a year.

As a show of the community's support, Ideal Supplies in Ludlow has copied school supporters' letters to state legislators free of charge.

A Ludlow PTA member circulated letters at church on Sunday pleading with state officials to stop the proposed cuts to education, said Joanie Hagedorn, PTA president for the Ludlow Independent School District.

"I'm really concerned for my children's education and for the district,'' said Christy Troehler, a parent of two who volunteers in the schools. "We have an excellent school system with teachers who are experienced and who care about the kids. I don't want to see that disappear.''

A month ago, about 90 percent of the Ludlow school system's employees said they would attend the KEA rally after Superintendent Elizabeth Grause met with them to outline what the budget shortfall would mean for the district.

Among the possible cuts: a reduction in teaching staff that could make high school class size jump to 31; the loss of instructional assistants and other nonteaching positions; and the possible elimination or reduction of programs such as gifted and talented, reading recovery, and advanced placement classes.

As in many districts throughout Kentucky, all extracurricular activities face possible elimination. Building maintenance could be limited, and students could be charged for such things as school supplies, academic programs and athletic participation.

"My superintendent and I felt that if the rally was going to happen, then we needed to be proactive and organize, not just close school and hope that teachers would go,'' said Barbara Martin, Ludlow's assistant superintendent.

To ensure unity at Wednesday's rally, more than 100 parents, students, teachers and support staff dressed in the school colors of red and black will board two buses for the trip to Frankfort. Others will drive their own cars.

The Ludlow Education Association has agreed to underwrite transportation costs, and the instructional day lost Wednesday will be made up.

"We've always tried to be on the cutting edge here,'' said Mike Borchers, principal of Ludlow's high school and middle school.

As a result, he said Ludlow was recognized as an exemplary growth district last year, with all of its schools meeting goals and in "rewards'' under Kentucky's testing program.

"There's a lot to be said for the individual attention that students in small schools get,'' Borchers said. "We don't want to stand by and not let our voices be heard.''

Kentucky is facing a $394 million budget shortfall. Gov. Paul Patton has asked school districts and other state agencies to prepare a contingency plan for 5.2 percent cuts for the fiscal year that starts July 1 - a cut that state Department of Education officials say actually amounts to 6.6 percent because of untouchable items in school budgets such as teacher retirement contributions.

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