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Staff Cuts Expected at Hyattsville Elementary

School to lose $200,000 in federal grant funding because of slight decline in students from poor households.

A less than two percentage point drop in the number of students eligible for free or reduced school meals means that Hyattsville Elementary School will likely have to cut five staff positions next year, eliminating a home-grown reading program and a bilingual outreach worker.

The cuts were a call to action for local Parent Teacher Association officials. 

"These are things the PTA Board has to have a voice on," said Bart Lawrence, president of the Hyattsville Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, at a meeting last night. "If we don't say anything, nothing's going to happen, and if we say something, then something might happen."

The reason for the cuts?

For the first time in more than 10 years, less than 75 percent of Hyattsville Elementary School's students are receiving free or reduced price school meals. This school year, only 73.4 percent students applied for the program in time for the Title I grant cutoff.

And while a decline in the number of children from low-income households might be seen as a positive development, that decline means that Hyattsville Elementary School will lose its Title I funding, a federal grant program which awards money to individual schools on a sliding scale based upon the number of students at the school eligible for free or reduced price school meals. Schools with less than 75 percent of students in the free and reduced price lunch program are not eligible for Title I grants.

According to Hyattsville Elementary School Principal Jeanne Washburn, the Title I grant program awarded $200,000 to the school last year. She said that the school is looking into other grant programs which could replace the Title I funding. 

"In some ways it's good. It means we have fewer children in poverty," said Washburn. "But it also means we lose that grant funding."

That money funded four positions within Hyattsville Elementary School's Reading Intervention Team, a program which helped disadvantaged students brush up on their reading skills with in-school tutors. Modeled after similar programs, Hyattsville's Reading Intervention Team was run entirely by the school at the local level. The Reading Intervention Team was run by Karen Stanford, also the school webmaster; Nick Richards, the school technology coordinator; Johnette Boden, who works with kindergarteners, and Leslie Marks. 

Hyattsville Elementary School's Title I grants also funded the salary of Cecilia Penate, who for the last 11 years has been Hyattsville Elementary School's bilingual community outreach specialist.

Unless another source of funding is found, those positions will likely be cut, said Lawrence.

In the face of the loss of funding, Lawrence and others at last night's PTA meeting clawed at options to fill the gap left by the looming cuts. 

The ideas ranged from developing a network of bilingual parents who could help get the message out about school news and events to relying more on existing county resources for reading tutoring. 

"Speaking as a parent, we've heard of cuts in the past years and Title I going away. It feels like a blow each time, but other times I think we can make this work," said Lawrence. "We have great teachers here, but we have to keep working and working hard."

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