With school cuts, many teachers, coaches need summer jobs

AMY — With budget cuts slashing their summer jobs at the school, Scott Community High School football coaches John Zilla and Glenn O'Neil have found another source of summer income — the farm fields of Kansas.

Most days you'll find them on a Lane County farm near the elevator town of Amy. They've spent days pulling weeds from wheat fields and unloading wheat trucks. They have done odd jobs, such as painting barn roofs.

The school district cut a summer open-gym program that O'Neil used to help run. The district also began charging students an enrollment fee for summer weightlifting, but the fees don't equal what O'Neil was paid.

Zilla, employed by High Plains Educational Cooperative in Ulysses as a special-education teacher for the Scott County school district, said he used to teach summer school most mornings. But lack of enrollment and budget cuts took his job away in 2009.

"Things have changed as far as the way they are able to finance summer programs," said O'Neil. "Each year, things have been cut down a little bit."

Zilla and O'Neil aren't complaining. However, they say they aren't the only ones affected by the pinch this summer.

Across Kansas, school districts have looked for ways to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending as base state aid per student falls, from $4,400 to $4,012 a student. While some of the cuts have come during the school year, others have come during the summer, said Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education.

"It's not unusual to cut summer school and, if not cut it, reduce it," Dennis said. "It's more likely you'll see more of that this year."

Nickerson-South Hutchinson superintendent Bill Hagerman said the district cut back on summer school partly because of enrollment, but added it also saves the district $7,000 to $8,000 "on the high end" during a tough budget year.

The district still has a summer program for high schoolers but eliminated elementary summer school.

Teachers also said they would rather have paraprofessionals for at-risk children than summer school.

At Sterling, superintendent Fred Dierksen said construction on the high school and grade school caused the district to suspend some programs, including summer school, until next summer.

For other districts, the cut to summer school could hurt more.

At St. John, superintendent James Kenworthy said the declining budget, as well as enrollment, caused the district to cut the summer school program entirely.

The district had 406 students when Kenworthy arrived seven years ago. Last year, it had 328.

"For this coming year, we are looking at $120,000 in reductions — and that is entirely from declining enrollment," he said.

The district stopped offering free second helpings at lunchtime and eliminated a couple of part-time teacher positions, as well as a custodial and food service position. Thermostats were set higher in the spring and cooler in the winter. Without summer school, the district was able to turn off air conditioning almost completely.

Kenworthy said purging summer school will save the district more than $9,000 in salaries, equipment, supplies and transportation. That is on top of the $5,000- to $6,000-a-month savings on utilities.

How that will affect state test scores won't be known until next year, Kenworthy said.

"That's a concern," he said.

Tara Kinnamon, a high school teacher and president of the district's teachers' association, said the district did approve longer days during the school year. However, rather than going four days a week like some districts, students attend five days, which allows them to have a shorter school year.

"This would give a longer block of time during the summer, if (staff) did want to get a summer job," she said.

Lane County farmer Vance Ehmke said he hired Zilla four or five years ago as part-time summer help. Back then, Zilla worked each afternoon after summer school ended.

With budget cuts and more teachers looking for jobs, Zilla started his days early each morning last year. This spring, he called Ehmke to see if he could use more help.

"They do a really good job," Ehmke said of Zilla and O'Neil. "They've been up on barn roofs painting, unloading trucks during wheat harvest. They've been out on the tractors. There have been some really long hours.

"It's really hard to find good help, especially on a seasonal basis," Ehmke said.