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Principals: Loss of 3 reading coaches will hurt
3 Decatur middle schools to lose math coaches also

By Bayne Hughes
DAILY Education Writer

hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Decatur's three middle school principals are bemoaning the possible loss of reading coaches to budget cuts.

The combination of the Decatur City Council not reauthorizing a $640,000 allotment and projected increases in salaries and benefits left the school system seeking about $2.5 million in cuts.

Superintendent Sam Houston said he had to cut three middle school reading coaches, saving $183,842, and two elementary math coaches because he must make personnel decisions in May. A nontenured teacher automatically gets a contract renewal if she doesn't receive notification before the last day of school.

"The combination of the salary and benefits increases and not getting a commitment from the council was a double whammy," Houston said.

The school board will hold a called meeting today at 4 p.m. to focus on these end-of-the-year personnel issues.

The principals hope the City Council will change its position. They urged Houston to find alternative cuts, but they're almost resigned to the losses.

'Almost inevitable'

"We voiced our position, but, right now, without the support of the City Council, it's almost inevitable," Brookhaven Principal Larry Collier said. "It's not a matter of jumping up and down to get the money. It's a done deal."

Oak Park Principal Linda McLain called the decision "devastating and disappointing."

Cedar Ridge Principal Beth Lacy is worried that her school's writing scores will fall after increases in five out of six years.

The school's writing scores went from 36 percent (scoring at or above grade level) in 1999 to 80 percent for 2005, a rise that Lacy attributed to the Alabama Reading Initiative. In 2003, the scores dropped when two language arts teachers were on sick leave and the reading coach was part time during the first semester.

"We believe in this program so much that I hate for us to step backward," Lacy said.

Collier said his proof that the program works is that 64 percent of his students scored at or above grade level in writing while 76 percent qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. Only 14 percent of Cedar Ridge's students qualify for the lunch program.

"Considering our poverty level, we've done pretty well," Collier said.

No accurate measure

Oak Park, just completing its second year in ARI, does not have an accurate measure of the program's effectiveness, McLain said.

According to the principals, reading coaches work with struggling readers; lead professional development; provide curriculum support; and work with teachers and students in the classroom.

Lacy compared eliminating the reading coaches to taking a coach off a basketball team that won a state championship.

"You're not going to send them out on the basketball court without a coach the next year just because they've had good training," she said.

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