Archive for Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Board, patrons talk budget cuts again

May 14, 2003

There was plenty of talk about budget cuts at Monday's School Board meeting at Vinland Elementary School, with yet another round of impassioned pleas from district patrons about what to save while the board eyes reducing the budget by $236,000.

But, the only action taken was setting a budget workshop meeting for the board at 7 p.m. on June 2 in the Baldwin High School library. Board President Ed Schulte told what was left of the crowd that at one time numbered around 60, that they were welcome to attend that session, too.

Monday's meeting was far from normal. During the audience participation portion of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, which usually lasts five minutes at most, about 15 patrons took the opportunity to take their allotted time to tell board members what they thought of proposed budget cuts and specifically the 13 teachers who may not be rehired as the board prepares for possible shortfalls in state funding.

There was confusion there, too, as several of the 15 made mention of the just completed Legislative session which they thought "restored" funding to schools. Once the audience participation portion was over, there was a break and after a few other agenda items, the budget matter resurfaced. Supt. James White made it very clear that funding was not "restored."

"I think it's very important that everyone understand there was nothing given back by the Governor," said White. "From day one, the number we had to work with was $3,863 per student. Don't get the concept that the Governor gave something back. The Governor and Legislature did not give anything back.

"There has been talk of cuts per student of $50, $100, $150 and even $200," he said. "If the economy continues to suffer and revenues fall, the Governor is going to have little choice but to cut us again. That's what we're concerned about. That's why the board has asked me to come up with these cuts."

White also explained the budget process and how it won't be finalized until probably July and then approved in August. There is much work yet to be done on the budget and it can't be set until the actual numbers for funding come from Topeka. That's contrary to what many have inferred that the budget has already been set.

"It's a little frustrating to me that there's some concept that the budget has been set," said White. "We start with the $3,683. We fill in from there.

"It's critically important that everyone understand that the Governor hasn't given anything back. We're trying to plan for cuts in the future," he said. "We have to plan for the potential that's hidden in the Governor's responsibility to keep the budget balanced in the state."

After White's explanation, Schulte then detailed to the crowd why the 13 teachers were given notice of possible nonrenewal. They had to be notified of that possibility by May 1 by law. How many teachers will actually be nonrenewed is still in the distance, he said.

"Over the next two months we'll be working on determining which of the positions will be brought back, even if they are part-time positions," said Schulte. "We know about high-quality teachers. We know about teachers that are nontenured teachers. It's not about putting everyone's name in the hat and pulling them out. There is a tenure factor that we have to look at."

White also updated the board about on-going negotiations with the teachers.

"We've met with the staff in negotiations about five times," said White. "We haven't talked about salary. We did talk about reduction in force. We've basically talked about nonmonetary issues. We did say in the first session that we may have to freeze salaries."

As happened at the budget cutting forum two weeks ago, Schulte thanked those that participated in Monday's meeting.

"I think we're always interested in hearing ideas," said Schulte. "A lot of them are things we have considered in the past that we haven't looked at recently. It's not a matter of don't cut this or don't cut that. It's more of giving us ideas of where we can save. We've got some tough decisions to make."

During the audience participation period, the 15 people that spoke had various ideas for savings, but most of the talk was about not cutting teachers and programs. Elementary art was the topic of several.

"A 3 percent cut takes away art," said Dave Wismer. "It's more than just coloring. It's more than just drawing. I would like to see it restored."

Wismer suggested that building principals only work four days a week during the summer which he said would save $27,000. Several others made pleas for art, but complete education was more important to others.

"My concern is we don't lose any core academic positions," said James Nelick. "If any cuts need to be made, they should not be made in academics. Education is education. Extra curricular is extra curricular. I think it would be incomprehensible to see academic positions cut when there are other areas that can be cut."

Increasing revenue was another idea thrown out by Russ Cloon, who has even suggested that a sales tax similar to the one in Johnson County be added in Douglas County.

"I want to see anyone stand up who would like to see teachers fired rather than raise taxes," said Cloon and no one in the crowd stood.

Several science teachers in the district have been notified of nonrenewal. Several audience members spoke to that.

"I was concerned that there were science teachers cut. Brian Ash (Baldwin Junior High School) and Ann Katzenmeier (Vinland Elementary) are both exceptional science teachers," said Lisa Nelick. "I think we need to keep our core teachers. There are other places to get money.

"Personally, both my children ride the bus and I would be willing to pay for that," she said. "I think that's something the board should consider rather than cutting teachers."

Gloria Roach was concerned about the librarian at Vinland and Marion Springs being cut. She echoed the sentiment that cuts should be made elsewhere from educators.

"I no longer have children in school. I guess I'm still a little bit of a fighter for Vinland. The first of my concerns is cutting the librarian. My kids learned Spanish and many other life skills from her," Roach said, adding that Baldwin Elementary had no cuts, the new primary school has two secretaries and there are five assistant football coaches.

"I'm thinking maybe reading is more important to me," she said. "There are $200,000 in budget cuts, but not a single extra curricular activity is cut. Maybe the fees need to be increased instead of cuts being made."

Kelly Spurgeon made reference to the Title I program at BES and the "No Child Left Behind" mandate from the federal government. He said it didn't make any sense to close either of the rural schools and send those children to BES.

"Let's cut out the rural schools and send them to a school where parents have a choice to go elsewhere," said Spurgeon. "Any short-term gain from closing Marion Springs or Vinland would be lost by that.

"We're all tied into this together," he said. "No one gains from Baldwin Elementary suffering. No one gains from Vinland suffering. No one gains from Baldwin Junior High suffering. All the schools in our district need the shared responsibilities. I see great potential for that here."

Cotter Mitchell agreed.

"If you cut, you cut a little bit everywhere," said Mitchell. "Let's be a little more uniform."

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