School district budget cuts inevitable, but let’s eye options
School district budget cuts have been looming for more than a year now, so it came as little surprise that there was plenty of interest at Monday night's Baldwin School District public forum on the topic.
And what a hot topic at times it was. There were several times when the discussion headed toward heated exchange, most notably concerning the closing of Marion Springs Elementary School. It's not a new idea, but it always brings the hackles up the neck of MSE parents, as does the same suggestion of closing the other rural elementary school at Vinland.
That's understandable. The people that comprise those school communities are very staunch in their belief that there is no better way to educate their children. That's all that matters. They've chosen to live where they do and for many it's as much a matter of where their children go to school as anything else.
They are willing to make the sacrifices that rural living can mean. It's what's important to them and they're not shy about letting their feelings be known. When you talk about drawing a line in the sand, the folks at Marion Springs and Vinland are among the best. They've had plenty of practice over the years.
Those schools have survived several attempts to close them or alter them over the years. The patrons of those communities have made it clear they're ready again.
There was another idea that was given to the school board at the meeting that wasn't discussed or even outlined because of time constraints. It's a plan provided by Betty Bullock that would make for more efficient utilization of existing facilities that would result in district-wide savings.
The plan calls for Vinland to become the "Early Childhood Center" for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Baldwin Elementary School would be the "Primary Center" and house grades 1 and 2. The new elementary school would be the "Intermediate Center" for grades 3 and 4. Marion Springs would be the 5th Grade Center.
Among the advantages would include the elimination of unequal class sizes which were discussed in the proposal for closing MSE. Those figures, supplied by Bullock and not from the district, show that it costs $3,683 to educate each student at BES compared to $6,306 at MSE. VES is in between. It's the difference in class sizes that comprise the wide variation.
It isn't a new plan. It was suggested in the 1980s when Bill Neuenschwander was superintendent. Although the board didn't discuss the plan during the public forum Monday night, it was mentioned when the board came out of executive session around 11 p.m. when all but a handful of people were long gone.
It was suggested by Board President Ed Schulte that the board examine the plan closely. It wasn't an endorsement, but as the board agonizes over possibly needing to cut upward of $230,000 from the $9.2 million budget, but at least another option to look at.
Bullock's proposal included the caveat that there are several questions to be answered under the plan before it could be determined how much the exact cost cutting savings can be determined.
But, it did fall in line with something Schulte said during the forum.
"We are one district," Schulte said. "We are proud of Marion Springs and their accomplishments (in receiving awards of excellence). We have great staffs at Vinland and Baldwin elementaries that have accomplished many things, too."
It's something to consider. After all, once the elementary years are behind everyone, all Baldwin students truly become one at the junior high and high school.
However the whole budget situation plays out, and that won't be determined for months, it's vital that all of the Baldwin School District patrons participate the best they can in the process. There will undoubtedly be some give and take involved.
Let's just all remember it's about educating our children -- each and everyone of them, regardless of where they might attend school.
While talk of closing MSE or VES or even using other alternatives with them have been talked about many times before, there was a surprise item thrown out Monday night as a cost saver.
The list of possible cuts handed out included eliminating the high school newspaper, which would save $2,154. It hadn't been mentioned before and caught everyone by surprise.
It seems like only yesterday that there was a groundswell of support to start the paper because of what it had to offer students and because Baldwin High School was one of the few schools without one.
Since then, journalism teacher Kit Harris has built a very strong journalism foundation, including the Bulldog Bulletin, at BHS. It would be sad to see it go. It was suggested that advertising might save it. That's a good idea and needs to be explored. Journalism classes are full now because of the interest Harris has created. Let's don't lose it for 2,000 bucks.