Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2003

School board mulls cuts; battles budget

April 16, 2003

Uncertainty in the state budget is leading to uncertainty in the Baldwin School District budget.

For more than an hour Monday, the Baldwin Board of Education discussed the possibilities the district could have to face with next year's budget, including staff and program cuts and activity fee increases. A complete list of possible cuts and increases the board is considering can be found at the end of the story.

While many recommendations were talked about and options mulled, the only decision made on the subject was to get input from all of the schools as well as the district patrons.

The school board has requested all school administrators and faculty in the district to figure out how 1 percent and 3 percent could be cut from their own budgets and their ideas on what could be cut district-wide.

In two weeks the community will also have a say on the possible cuts. There will be a public forum at 7 p.m. April 28 at the Baldwin Junior High School. The district's current budget situation and what it could be facing in the future will be presented, along with ideas for cuts and increases. Patrons will also have an opportunity to ask questions and present other options during the forum.

Supt. James White said it has been indicated next year's base budget per pupil will not increase as in past years, but will be held at this year's level of $3,863.

Board President Ed Schulte said it's also possible there will be reductions in the per pupil budget for next year.

The district will receive two years of state aid to help with expenses incurred with the opening of the new elementary school.

Because district expenses will increase next year despite the fact that state aid might not, White said the district has been compiling several options to reduce the budget.

He said he has already had discussions with faculty about freezing their salaries next year.

"I'm sure it's something they've considered, but they don't like it," he said.

Other options include raising activity participation fees and pass costs.

But the district is also looking at cutting programs and staff in an effort to tighten the budget.

Possible cuts include reducing the shared Marion Springs Elementary School and Vinland Elementary School library and music teacher positions to .8 instead of full time. The librarian and music teacher would be at each school two days a week instead of two days one week and three days the next week.

Also on the possible chopping block is the elementary art program.

"I just feel like to have our art program at the level it should be, we ought to have another art teacher. But we can't afford that," White said. "We are an art-oriented community and we don't want to take anything away from that. But right now the students get 45 to 55 minutes every two weeks. It probably would be a better service if we put art back into the classrooms until the sixth grade."

The district is under some time constraint in making some of these decisions, White said, or at least in making the first step.

"The faculty must be notified by May 1 that it is the board's intent not to renew their contract," he said.

Just because the board makes that notification to faculty doesn't necessarily mean their contracts won't be renewed, but White said by law the faculty has to be notified of the board's intent.

Board Member Curtis Trarbach didn't think the district should single anyone out at this point with notification their contract might not be renewed.

"I think you've got to give everyone notice of non-renewal then," he said.

But Schulte disagreed.

"That's stampeding everybody without being realistic," he said.

Board Member Linda Rodgers said it was important to remember that about 80 percent of the district's budget was faculty and staff salaries.

"That's really the only place you can make an impact, with personnel," White said.

Trarbach said he was disappointed with a number of the possible cuts listed.

"It really saddens me some of these items are even being considered," he said. "It seems we're cutting more from outlying schools. It doesn't seem very equitable."

Baldwin Elementary School principal Tom Mundinger said the ratio of students to teachers had to be kept in mind when determining fairness.

"On this paper, it appears those two schools are getting hit the hardest," Mundinger said. "But you're looking at the assumption everything's equal and fair to begin with."

Trarbach said no student is denied the chance to go to any elementary school in the district.

"There's an opportunity for each student to attend the facility of their liking," he said. "I'm just trying to make it equitable for all of the students. It's a tough call here who gets cut."

Schulte said something would have to be done.

"None of us want any of these cuts here, but I feel we have a responsibility," he said.

Questions about cutting other areas, like administrator positions were, raised by board members.

"There are always those possibilities," White said.

The board will discuss budget options further after hearing from the schools and the public.

Here is a list of prioritized budget reduction recommendations and the money it would save or generate presented to the school board:

Group 1

  • Raise activity participation fee from $20 to $25 per activity -- $2,500
  • Raise activity pass costs from $25 to $35 for adults and $15 to $25 for students -- $500 and $250
  • Increase book rental fees

High school: $40 to $50 -- $4,300

Junior high: $30 to $50 -- $6,600

Elementary: $30 to $40 -- $4,500

Kindergarten: $20 to $25 -- $450

  • Terminate vocational education contract with Ottawa -- $18,500

Group 2

  • Reduce library services at MSES and VES to .8 -- $7,000
  • Reduce music services at MSES and VES to .8 -- $7,000
  • Eliminate elementary art -- $23,000

Group 3

  • Reduce staff by one teacher at VES -- $30,000
  • Reduce staff by one teacher at MSES -- $30,000
  • Reduce staff by one teacher at BJHS for the sixth grade. The incoming sixth grade will have only 80 students compared to the average 100 students in recent years. By eliminating one teacher, class sizes will still be kept at about 20 students. -- $35,000

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