Despite Pleas, CB Schools Reduce German Program
Superintendent warns more program cuts are coming.
The Central Bucks School Board’s decision to eliminate German language classes in the district’s middle schools is a precursor to even more painful cuts in the future, warned Superintendent Dr. N. Robert Laws.
“This is just the beginning,” said the superintendent a few minutes before the unanimous vote that left a group of parents disappointed.
“You will see more programs we can’t support” in coming years. He declined to be more specific about which programs might be on the chopping block, saying “We’re not there yet.”
Like most area school districts, Central Bucks is feeling the effects of the economic downtown, especially in local revenues. According to a preliminary $287.5 million budget approved Tuesday night, the district will use $5.3 million from its fund balance and raises property taxes 1.34 percent for the 2011-2012 school year.
Looking for ways to reduce expenditures, the board since October has focused on the German language program at the middle schools. According to district estimates, it costs about $750 per student to teach German but only $480 to teach French or Spanish. The district has 290 high school students and 160 middle school students enrolled in German classes.
Business manager David W. Matyas said the district expects to save about $150,000 in salaries, benefits and travel expenses by teaching German only at the high school level.
Last month, and again Tuesday night, parents protested the move, saying it will diminish the district’s academic reputation. They claimed learning German is essential in today’s global economy and wondered how Advanced Placement students could fit five years of instruction into four years at the high school.
Some parents questioned whether the district will actually realize the projected savings. Others suggested finding other ways to save money, including imposing an activity fee on students who participate in athletics and other after-school programs.
Laws defended the administration and board against accusations that they did a poor job educating parents about the need to phase out German at the middle schools. He said the subject has been discussed in public several times during committee meetings and board sessions. The only motivations, he said, are efficiency and cost cutting.
The district’s plan is to stop teaching German I in the middle schools next year, and German II the following year. Because of 90-minute block scheduling at the high school, students will be able to squeeze five years of instruction into four years, said Laws.
Laws said 55 school districts in Pennsylvania cut either German or French language programs last year.
“We’re trying to keep it alive by moving the program to the high school,” he said. “No one is saying ‘Raise my taxes’, to keep the program alive,” said Laws.
School board member Chuck Baker said he reluctantly voted to make the program change because of difficult economic times.
“Unfortunately, there will be a lot of other things we do in the next year or so” to cut expenses, Baker said. “We simply have to cut out overhead."
Another board member, Chris Asplen, said his vote “is in no way a reflection on the quality or importance” of teaching German.
Rather, he said, it is an acknowledgement of the need to “operate more efficiently with limited resources” and to “stick to our core factors.”