Mt. Gilead school board gets strong feedback from public on proposed cuts
By LeAnne Gompf –
What can be cut from a school budget and not impact student learning? That was the question raised during the first of three public budget discussions held by the Mount Gilead Board of Education March 10.
In an effort to be proactive, the board is looking to make significant cuts to the current budget for the 2013 school year. District Treasurer Trevor Gummere explained in detail the projected five year forecast for the finances based on current spending.
He very clearly stated, “By identifying reductions now of $700,000.00 reduces a 2 million dollar deficit four years down the road. Every year we save that money, which is a very important factor.”
Proposed cuts will affect both teachers and students; it is that concern that had staff and community members voicing their opinion during the two and half hour work session Saturday morning. Board President Jeff Sweeney again reiterated, “The decisions made by the board with regard to cuts are never an easy task, and not one they take lightly. By acting and being good stewards now we can avoid that deficit.”
Interim Superintendent Edward Swartz went on to explain the proposed cuts and how they will affect the district. The cuts that appeared to be the most personal were the reduction of a first grade teaching position, secondary Social Studies position, K-12 Music position, K– 12 physical Education position, and elimination of the High School Family Consumer Science program. In a phone conversation with Swartz following the meeting, he clarified that the proposed cuts do not eliminate a core curriculum area and need not eliminate specific classes.
“The district cannot continue to support the current number of small classes in some offerings,” he said. “The schedule will be covered by consolidation of responsibilities and utilizing other sources available to the school.”
Several teachers were on hand to share their concern about the suggested elimination of the district’s teaching positions. The major concern was the loss of a core curriculum teacher at the secondary level.
“The front line in the battle of education is the core curriculum,” stated High School Social Studies teacher Tom Cooper. “Once you start looking for alternatives to teaching those classes, either through technology or outsourcing, you lose the ability to influence and educate the kids at risk. They need a teacher, a human that cares.”
Cooper encouraged the board to look at other ways to make cuts in the district.
“The core is the fire line, the trench,” he added. “Once you go down the slippery slope of outsourcing or eliminating the core, education will never be the same. You need to make a stand, and the core line is the stand.”
Cooper went on to say he understands that teachers are expensive and often the easiest way to make cuts in a district, but they make the difference. Additionally, with the reduction of an elementary first grade teacher, classroom sizes will increase slightly. Mandy Rocks a teacher at the Primary Center says she struggles now to meet the diverse needs of her classroom.
“With the social economics of our community changing dramatically over the past five years; adding additional students to the mix makes it increasingly difficult to maintain the education excellence we are striving for,” she explained.
At one point in the morning’s open dialogue with the board, the question was asked whether or not any cuts to the administrative level had been discussed. Board President Sweeney informed those in attendance that cuts at the administrative level were briefly discussed, and some administrative positions have been eliminated or consolidated over the past four years, but no additional cuts are being considered at this time. Several in attendance question how many administrators in our district receive free health insurance? It was suggested that administrators be required to pay for their own health insurance, as required of our teaching staff. Sweeney stated that while no decrease in pay would be requested from current administration by asking them to pay a portion of their health insurance, from this point forward any increase in health cost will be paid by the administrators and not picked up by the district. The general consensus of those in attendance was that public opinion is that budget cuts need to start with administration and not fall solely on the teaching and support staff.
Shared personnel and extended days with reduction in school week, along with other options, were suggested as alternatives to eliminating full time teaching positions. Teachers in attendance expressed their gratitude to the board for being proactive and being ahead of the curve with regard to the five year forecasted deficit. However, they felt that by looking at the numbers, the district is not in a desperation mode that requires cuts to teaching staff at the core level.
The board will continue looking for other options to reduce the budget by $700,000.00. Two additional public forums Wednesday March 14 at 6 p.m. and Thursday March 15 at 7 p.m. will be held prior to making any recommendations at the regular March 20 board meeting. The Public is welcome and encouraged to attend.