Opinion: Student press conference denies reality of APS budget crisis

Feature Photo By: Luis Ramos – Review staff members Hannah Metzger (left) and Alivia Lee (center) sit with Superintendent Rico Munn. Metzger and Lee had the opportunity to interview Munn during his student press conference on February 8th. 

By: Hannah Metzger, Review Staff

Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, February 8th, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn held a student press conference at the PLCC to discuss the current financial crisis and the future of Aurora Public Schools. The crowd of students consisted of representatives from William Smith, Gateway, Hinkley, and, of course, Rangeview High School. The following column was written in response to the press conference.

Upon entering the conference room, I was filled with excitement and relief believing that I was finally going to get the answers to the $31 million question that has been plaguing my mind for the past month.

I was finally going to know what the future holds for my beloved high school, what kind of education my younger sister is going to be able to receive through APS, and what is going to happen to all the friends I leave behind after graduation — or, so I thought.

I walked out of the PLCC feeling more frustrated than reassured and having more questions than answers. Throughout the entire hour of the press conference, Superintendent Munn seemed to be more concerned about maintaining the false reality that APS is not in trouble than providing answers to the questions he was asked by the student journalists. 

While Munn was quick to mention the increased graduation rates and decreased dropout rates in APS (three times, in fact), he failed to provide any new information, or even his own opinions, regarding the questionable future of our district.

When asked how he believes increased class sizes (coming from the published budget and teacher cuts next year) would affect the graduation and dropout rates of Aurora Public Schools, Munn became defensive, claiming that it was not a fair assumption to say that class sizes would be increasing.

Rico Munn watches student journalist during press conference. Many of Munn’s answers during the conference were repetitive. (Luis Ramos)

“I’m not sure that those assumptions are correct to increasing class sizes,” Munn claimed. “There’s certainly gonna be impacts to those, but we haven’t figured out yet what those impacts are or how we’re addressing those things…. I don’t accept that assumption that class sizes will increase…”

However, as the vast majority of APS students and teachers know, increasing class sizes is a very real possibility. In fact, two out of the four proposed scenarios released by the district to solve the budget crisis (proposed scenarios can be found here) include increasing student to staff ratios — a “3.0 student increase to staffing ratio” in scenario four and a “1.5 student increase to staffing ratio for Middle Schools… 2.0 student increase to staffing ratio for High Schools” in scenario three.

Munn neglecting to discuss the repercussions of increasing class sizes when they are a significant portion of the scenarios released is irresponsible and unfair to the students who he invited to the conference. We were promised answers, but we were given nothing but denial.

Class size was not the only topic Munn brushed off, but he also avoided questions about any of the proposed cuts because “We ask people not to focus too much on the individual items because they shift a lot…”

Munn only provided shallow and generic answers when asked about any specifics. When asked about what the impact of cutting of middle school sports (as proposed in scenario two) would be, he essentially avoided the topic altogether.

“I’m not gonna go down that list of proposed ideas and tell you that I love any of them,” Munn explained. “They’re a list of things that were trying to evaluate how do we make sure we have the highest level of engagement and impact for our students and maintain an appropriate funding level for our schools.”

This was the theme for many questions, if he even answered them at all. When asked about how some APS schools projected of losing up to 20 teachers will affect the success of the students, his answer was nearly identical to that regarding middle school sports.

Munn gestures hands while answering a question. The next opportunity for the APS community will take place this Tuesday at a budget board meeting; details are posted below. (Luis Ramos)

“Well… we know that everything that we’re looking at will have some level of impact, and we have to try to figure out one what is that impact and how do we mitigate that impact,” said Munn. “We’re still in that process trying to figure out what would that impact look like building by building.”

This generic and inconclusive answer could be found yet again when he was asked about the possible impact of losing elective options — art, business, journalism, physical education, music, African American history, women in history, Latin American history — and increasing class sizes on students.

“…[E]verything that we are contemplating is going to have some kind of impact on students, and we’re trying to figure out what the best way to address those things and minimize those impacts,” said Munn.

Receiving such patronizing and spurious answers to very straightforward and reasonable questions was infuriating. Not as infuriating, though, as when Munn offered no answers at all.

When asked which of the four proposed scenarios would be the best for APS students, how federal funding for the IB program will change next year, how many kids participate in APS sports, what the impact of losing swimming pools would be (as proposed in scenario two), and if the budget cuts affect electives, he answered EACH of these questions with practically nothing.

His exact words were, respectively, “ I don’t have a good answer,” “I don’t have an answer,” ““[I don’t know] not off the top of my head,” “what I don’t have for you and what people would like is a definitive ‘here’s what’s going to happen,’” and “…it’s possible.”

Whether he was ill informed or simply trying very hard to not spread misinformation, the answers Munn provided us with were beyond disappointing.

With the future of APS up in the air and many students and staff fearful of what is to come, it is vital that we as a district are able to look to our leaders for guidance and support. Munn failed to provide us with these.

If the superintendent of APS is not able to be realistic and upfront about the current instability of our district, then I am afraid the future is even darker than we thought.

An APS board meeting will be held this Tuesday the 21st at 6:00pm. The meeting is a chance to have your voice heard, and it will focus on upcoming budget cuts and final decisions for the district. You can attend this meeting at the PLCC – 15771 East 1st Avenue, Aurora, CO. 

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