Archive for Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Board hears patrons’ concerns about cuts

April 30, 2003

Impassioned pleas to save programs, a short but lively discussion on a proposal to shut down Marion Springs Elementary School and even a poem intertwined for an interesting public forum on possible school district budget cuts Monday night.

Around 90 people attended the forum at Baldwin Junior High School. School Board President Ed Schulte explained the possible budget cuts discussed would be taken under advisement, but no action would be taken.

However, to beat a May 1 deadline for notifying teachers of possible nonrenewal, the board met in executive session for almost an hour after the two-and-a-half hour forum ended. When the closed session was over, the board listed 13 teachers for possible nonrenewal (see related story). The board explained the nonrenewal notifications could be rescinded and decisions won't be made until it known what state funding for schools will be.

That came despite one of the pleas from an audience member, which followed discussions of how the community would support funding for art and music separate from what money the school district would have.

"One other thing I think that the community supports, and I know I do, is our teachers," said Jay Pratt. "I would not like to see teachers being eliminated for budgetary reasons. If a principal has another reason for eliminating a teacher, that's something else. You think about things that help kids, teachers help kids."

But most of the evening's pleas from the audience concerned cutting elementary art, elementary music and other programs which the board is considering.

"I could talk all night long about the value of the art program," said Rosemary Murphy, local artist who taught elementary art in the district for years. "If you're talking about cutting money, have you looked around? The Baldwin Arts Council has been very strong supporters and would help.

"This is a way students learn," Murphy said. "I think there are parents who would be interested in funding this program."

She received a round of applause for her thoughts. Numerous other people spoke to the issue as well. Murphy also began her presentation questioning the reasoning for dropping funding for the Baldwin High School newspaper at a savings of $2,154. That was a new item on the cut list and caught everyone by surprise.

Stacy Cohen, who recently was elected to the board but won't take office until July, spoke about the newspaper issue, too. Cohen taught journalism at BHS and has been involved in newspapers in various roles.

"I don't understand why the newspaper has to be self supporting. Are other programs? Why have we cut this program?" Cohen said. "Kansas is known as a journalism state. We save all the sports, but we cut the newspaper? I don't understand."

But it was a proposal shared by Cohen and Betty Bullock, who ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for the board seat won by Cohen, which almost caused the most fireworks. The pair had figures that showed the inequities in cost per pupil for education at the three elementary schools and what could be saved by closing Marion Springs Elementary.

Bullock's hand-out showed numbers for average class size at the schools: 397 students at Baldwin Elementary, 23 faculty, for an average class size of 17.3; 93 students at Vinland Elementary, six faculty, average class size 15.5; and 67 students at MSES, six faculty, average class size 11.2. Her totals for average instructional cost per K-5 students was $4,270. When applied to the three schools her figures showed it costs $3,683 per student at BES, which is 86 percent of the district average; $5,309 per student at VES, 124 percent of average; and $6,306 per student at MSES, 147 percent of average.

Cohen followed that with her figures that showed between $155,254 and $170,054 could be saved by closing Marion Springs. The figures were based on 5 percent and 7 percent of total district budgets for such items as water, electricity and repairs, as well as the savings from the elimination of a custodian, secretary and principal from district salaries.

"Our proposal will not cause any programs to be cut. There would be no lost programs, no lost positions," said Bullock. "We propose the board close Marion Springs Elementary School. That would save the district more than $100,000."

Cohen then followed with her remarks, but not before board member Curtis Trarbach left the room.

"In the end, the savings are tremendous," Cohen said. "This is without eliminating a single teacher. It creates a more equitable education. I know this is not a popular proposal. I know the benefits of small schools. I taught in one. The board needs to be fair to all the students in the district."

Not surprisingly, response from the numerous Marion Springs backers was swift.

"What is your legal budget?" asked Russ Cloon, local attorney who has a child at MSES. "If you close Marion Springs, you're staring down the barrel of a federal lawsuit."

There were also questions regarding the numbers that Bullock and Cohen presented. But before the discussion went any further, Schulte shut it down.

"We are not going to debate this among members of the audience," he said.

Prior to the discussion, Supt. James White had addressed the suggestion of closing the rural attendance centers and said it would not be an item he would suggest to the board. White also pointed out the excellence in education awards that MSES has won in the past years.

"It is not my plan to discuss that with the board," White said of closing either MSES or Vinland. "I guess we need to look at what is going on at Marion Springs and duplicate that."

That also brought a round of applause from the MSES supporters.

There were numerous other items discussed, including cutting administrators, but in the end Schulte thanked the district patrons for their attendance and encouraged them to contact legislators regarding school funding. Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, is among a group of freshmen legislators that is proposing a plan that would ensure state funding for schools.

"I am grateful for you being here," Schulte told the audience. "As a board member, when you come in and see 70 or 80 people at a meeting, you look for the tar and feathers. I encourage you to look legislatively. That's where these decisions are being made as to funding. Let them know that you're willing to pay more taxes.

"I can't encourage you enough to be strong advocates to the legislators for school funding," he said.

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