Residents in the Mid-Prairie School District Monday asked Superintendent Gordon Cook for recommendations about how to come up with some $150,000 in budget cuts and were told “I did not come to this …
Residents in the Mid-Prairie School District Monday asked Superintendent Gordon Cook for recommendations about how to come up with some $150,000 in budget cuts and were told “I did not come to this meeting prepared to speak out” on the subject.
The meeting was specifically a board work session to discuss budget cuts in view of the defeat of the Instructional Support Levy March 16, and a budget that will see only $28,827 of new money available for the general fund.
Cook stressed that he needs to continue to “visit with the team (meaning the principals and board) once more,” before he would have any recommendations. In fact, he insisted “it is a team decision.”
His stand drew a response from resident Deb Swartzendruber that he is the “expert” on the issue, that it is his full-time job “just as I have mine.”
She also asked how large issues can be addressed if “you cannot answer the small ones.”
One of the “small ones” involved paying an electrician $30 to change a $2 light bulb, something that resident Brenda Hershberger asked why it was not done by the maintenance director who she said “makes $28,000 a year.”
Board President Tracy Anderson asked if the call to an electrician may have been made by a teacher or custodian and was told “it was made by the maintenance director.”
Hershberger and several other residents asked about the efficiency of a position that was created to cut down expenses, asking if the director was not expected to do some actual maintenance.
Hershberger also cited another expense in calling a plumber to put antifreeze in two softball field restrooms.
“The charge was $38.87 of which $7.88 was for antifreeze. Couldn’t we have done that without a plumber?”
She added that she has been checking through the expenditures and “will be back again and again” as she assembles more information.
Another resident asked about having so many charges for maintenance jobs with outside vendors, also suggesting that the director should do some of the work.
He later said to the board “we hired you with our votes. You, in turn, hired him (pointing to the superintendent,” then said that when “we’re asking where the cuts will be, we have heard no answers.”
He stressed that “not getting answers” is “why you lost that vote by two to one.”
Finally, board member Elizabeth Curl asked Business Manager Doug Slaubaugh if he would compile information about the maintenance areas, noting “we need a breakdown” on all expenses.
There also was considerable discussion about home schooled children with residents asking why the number has kept rising and is now at 133.
Cook said that a number “are those who move into the district and have always home-schooled.”
However, there have been more joining the district’s Home Assistance Program (HAP), now up to 54 students, which gives the district .6 percent of the state aid. Which means that this year’s new money from the state, totaling $65,307, is for the Home Assistance Program, said Cook. Of those funds, all but $28,827 will be used for the HAP for supplies and salaries.
Residents asked how much of a loss the 133 home schoolers represent and were told it would be approximately $535,000. However Slaubaugh stressed that “we never lost it because we never had it in the first place.”
Cook told the more than 30 residents at the meeting that, depending on how salary negotiations go with staff and faculty, the district will need approximately $151,698 additional funds. That figure is based on projecting a 3.5 percent salary increase and an estimated $30,000 for supplies, including $6,000 for the NCA team visit for accreditation.
He added that "we are not projecting any change in the unspent balance." Of that balance, estimated at $244,000, only $178,005 is undesignated, which means it is not earmarked for certain areas.
Neil Knobloch then asked the board and superintendent to please consider what the residents “really want to hear. What are the cuts? What’s the future of the district? The public wants to know that.”
Cook explained that there were a variety of ways to look at the cuts, asking “what are the parameters, what is the goal of the district?”
Asked again what his biases are, what he would recommend, Cook said he still needs to talk with the board before “anything is said aloud.”
He said that he will have recommendations at the next board meeting, which is April 12.
Asked about his comments in his last Education in Focus column that some of the responsibility for the district’s problems are with the community, Cook said that he believed what he wrote was that “this district made the decision to have five buildings,” something that raises costs. Comparable districts have three or four buildings.
Suggestions were made by residents about considering everything from across the board cuts to assigning priorities and weighing programs and needs.
Fred Wagner asked Cook what cuts his office would make and was told that the district will no longer have to pay for the superintendent’s attendance at national meetings. Between coverage from an association to which Cook belongs and his own funds, the meeting costs will be covered outside district revenues, he said.
Swartzendruber said that much of the concern is if the district is “spending wisely,” and that “we will not give more if you cannot prove there is effective control.”
Swartzendruber also had come with a list of possible suggestions, regarding everything from overtime costs to hiring part-time student workers which could give the district far more work hours at less cost.
There also were references to the 1996 bond issue with questions about why the amount was not higher.
“The committee felt that that was the maximum amount that could be passed,” said Cook.
Board member Ray Marner said that he has “heard a lot of ideas and has received several letters. There are lots of possibilities,” adding that his personal opinion is that there be “consistent cuts across the board.”
Hussy suggested that a committee could be formed to review the situation and assign priorities and offered to serve on such a group.
Curl agreed that “we cannot close any doors,” that there are lots of opinions to weigh and that the cutting process “is not quick and easy.”
Cook added that the district will be looking at this type of situation for “several more years” as enrollments are expected to continue to decline well into the next century.
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