Deborah Clawson said her vantage point as the school district superintendent enabled her to recommend ways for reducing expenses and improving academics.
Clawson retired in 2012 after 39 years in education. She came to the Indiana district in 1998 as the assistant high school principal, then served as an elementary principal and curriculum coordinator before taking the superintendent’s office in 2006.
“It might be a little self-serving to note that we’ve done a great job, but I think we do need to acknowledge that the board, the administrators, the teachers and everyone involved have made a great effort to try to economize and try to reduce the budget. Credit needs to be given,” Clawson said.
The district should continue to rely on attrition to cut costs, although “retirements cannot be predicted fully, and sometimes the positions cannot be spared. So it’s not a perfect answer.”
Next, Clawson said, the district should count on teachers, para-educators and aides to find ways to cut classroom costs.
“And finally, as mentioned, the contract agreements. We all know contract negotiations can continue as long as they’re respectful and based on information, and if we have shared goals, I have hope,” she said. Clawson said she would be willing to negotiate for lower teacher salaries. “If everyone bargains in good faith, that process can be rewarded and we can move toward those kinds of ideas,” she said. “But it’s not a simple quick fix to drop the teachers’ salaries.”
She disagreed with targeting sports programs for cost cuts.
“Athletics seems to be a common place where people go when they’re unhappy about something. They say to shut down the athletic program. I cannot agree with that,” Clawson said. “That’s something that’s not in my background or that I have a particular love for, but I just don’t think that’s in the conversation. Do we have the most expensive music or arts program per student? Who knows? We value it, but no one has put a price tag on it and dangled it in the air and felt that it should disappear. So that’s not a question.”
Clawson said kindergarten has become important in education in recent years.
“The environment in schools has changed, the expectations of early learners has changed,” she said. “Schools need to be ready for children much more than children need to be ready for schools. A kindergarten program that’s strong and a pre-K program that brings children to that learning skill level is an important component in that child’s success, and that is a measure of a district’s success.”
Among the most important ways to improve education, Clawson said, communication within the school system is paramount.
“Strengthen communication among the stakeholders, particularly the faculty, staff, administrators, school board, superintendent. There needs to be a strong connection. Relationships matter, and in schools, it’s so clear that trust, confidence, openness and the ability to disagree” are important.
“I just think that’s the mission of every school board and actually every one in the system. If we can accomplish that, I think we can develop structures that meet our needs and meet the challenges, whether its configuration, whether its program reductions, or things that you don’t want to do.
“We also need to be sure the community understands how their dollars are being spent,” Clawson added. “That’s not an easy task, but I think that’s what we should communicate, how we spend our money.”