The Marion school district is advertising for a half-time family and consumer sciences teacher to half fill the void that will be left by Myrta Billings’ departure. The reasons are multiple, but they all boil down to money. The district’s enrollment — on which state funding is based — has been on the decline for several years at the same time that the state has been cutting per-student aid and other funding for small schools.
Because of those financial hardships, the district needs to find places to cut the budget, raise taxes, or both, and it’s a lot less painful to trim in a spot where someone is retiring than to force a teacher out. With that said, reducing FACS programs is not in the best interest of Marion’s students.
Most important is that the classes offered teach serious life skills. A lack of financial literacy among young adults is a serious problem, so much so that the school board had even considered making personal finance a required course for graduation. And the resume-building and interviewing skills a student can get from a career skills class represent a big advantage in an increasingly competitive job market.
High school senior Lauren McLinden spoke Monday in favor of keeping the FACS program full-time. She spoke strongly, stayed on topic, and never tripped over her words. I would be surprised if those speaking skills weren’t developed at least partly through her involvement and leadership roles in FCCLA, a program tied very closely to FACS.
McLinden said she has a classmate who will graduate with 12 free college credit hours through high school FACS classes. That is nearly a full semester. As someone who only recently can see the light at the end of the student-loan tunnel (although still distant), I can’t over-emphasize the financial benefit that is to students.
Billings noted that McLinden will study at Kansas State University to become a FACS teacher herself. McLinden is exactly the kind of student Marion needs to attract back to the area after college — self-motivated, involved, and successful in academics and extracurricular activities. Hopefully her teaching career will one day allow her to return to Marion, but that would seem unlikely with a half-time position.
With the extra funding the district receives for many FACS classes, the difference between a full- and half-time teacher doesn’t seem like the most effective place to tackle the budget crunch. Hopefully all of this will be a moot point. The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature needs to reinstate funding that could amount to $120,000 for USD 408, softening the need for such major cuts.
It also seems the district would have trouble attracting a half-time FACS teacher. Superintendent Lee Leiker said there has been only one applicant for the position since it was first advertised last month. If the district can’t find a suitable half-time candidate, hiring a full-time teacher is the clearly preferable course of action to leaving the post vacant.
— ADAM STEWART