Superintendent faces tough reality

By Aaron Dutton       

     Walking briskly toward a large polished metal door with an intricate spiraling handle, a tall gentleman stomps off the fresh snow gathered from his brightly polished brown dress shoes. As Martin Foster opens the door, the fresh aroma of coffee and the sounds of inviting conversation greet him as he enters the hotel lobby where a very important convention is about to take place in the conference room next-door.    

Superintendent Martin Foster (center) discusses the details of the CASE conference at a recent school board meeting with Bill Hungenberg and Marti Frank at his side. Photo by Aaron Dutton

Foster is the superintendent for the Weld Re-5J school district, which includes Milliken and Johnstown. Recent budget cuts in education are affecting Colorado schools, and within the Weld Re-5J school district, the budget has decreased 2.31 percent this year. The district is looking at a proposed cut of 7.1 percent next year, with a total loss of approximately1.9 million. 
            Superintendants of Colorado schools are looking for solutions to solve the crisis of recent budget cuts in K-12 education. The Colorado Association of School Executives Winter Leadership conference proposes answers to make sure public education can survive in these economic times and children can get the full education they need.   
7:45 a.m.
Once Foster enters the hotel lobby, he grabs a cup of coffee from the large silver coffeepots surrounded by pure white mugs. Foster sips his coffee, shakes several hands and makes small talk with colleagues just before he attends the yearly Conference on Feb. 4 at the Westin hotel in Westminster. As the top of the hour draws near, Foster enters the Westminster Ballroom, which features two projector screens holding the images of many speakers from all over the state. The speakers will address the current issues that are significant to every Colorado educator.
8:48 a.m.
One of the speakers, Deb Godshall, a budget and finance expert, talked about the state’s projected K-12 financial plan. Foster applauded in approval with Godshall’s announcement of no further rescissions in K-12 education. “I think it is good news for this year since they already cut 240 million dollars in the budget already,” Foster said. “The real issue is when they cut 1.1 billion next year.”
Joe Garcia, lieutenant governor of Colorado, later discussed the importance of K-12 learning. “Investing in K-12 is exactly that, an investment,” Garcia said. “We have to invest now.” Foster applauded this statement because he has seen so many cuts within the school budgets the past few years.
10 a.m.    
During a break in the conference, Foster once again poured a hot cup of coffee from the coffeepot outside the conference room and just as his lips were caressing the cup, Superintendent Chris Gdowski from the Adams 12 school district started a conversation with him. Both Gdowski and Foster said they were appalled with the recent budget cuts mentioned by Godshall. As others started to gather and pick up on the conversation, they nodded their heads in agreement. “The overall perception of the meeting was gloomy and dim with people scratching their heads in amazement in how much less money we have to work with compared to previous years,” Foster said. The Re-5J school district is working with just over $17 million in the general fund this year.
10:30 a.m.
After the break everyone settles back into their seats for the closing session, hosted by Michael Horn, the author of the book “Disrupting Class.” Horn talked about online learning and how it is better for students to be learning from home rather than in a typical crowded disruptive classroom.
Foster seems uneasy about this advancement in technology and makes a few comments to a woman sitting beside him. “Online learning is the wave of the future. School districts are going to be faced with huge changes moving into technology, meaning fewer teachers,” Foster said.
11:50 a.m.
After Horn ended his presentation, the crowd of educators and superintendents dispersed into the lobby, to either leave the hotel or gather in small groups for closing conversations. Foster had confidence in his voice as he pulled open the large polished metal door with the intricate spiraling handle. He made it clear that he will do all that he can to keep jobs, cut corners and roll with the punches of the budget crunch in order to do what is best for the schools district now and in the 2011-2012 school year.

More info
            Martin Foster is 62 years old and has been in education for 33 years. He has been a teacher, athletic director, assistant principal, principal and an assistant superintendent. Foster has been a superintendent for 13 years, first serving Sterling school district and then switching to the Johnstown/Milliken school district. Foster plans to be a superintendent for three more years.