The Washington School Board Wednesday night got its first look at possible budget cuts if a bond issue would fail for a second time.
The cuts are very preliminary, said Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer. “These are not set in stone, but it’s a starting point for discussion.”
Board members said none of the cuts, which include eliminating preschool and the gifted programs, reducing bus transportation and freezing salaries, were ideal.
The district has not decided when it will go back to voters with another bond measure but a decision by the board is expected soon. In April, voters rejected a $65 million bond issue which included a 46-cent property tax increase.
If Prop I had passed, the district planned to build a new elementary school, middle school and early childhood center, as well as renovate another building for an alternative education site, and make technology improvements districtwide.
A focus group made up of patrons, staff and business leaders is recommending running a similar bond issue in the next six to nine months.
Plan for the Worse
VanLeer said while she’s hopeful a second measure could pass, the board must plan for the worst.
A reorganization plan for the 2012-13 school year, which includes modular trailers at two schools and a shuffling of programs districtwide, was presented to the board Wednesday night. VanLeer said that plan is only a temporary solution to space needs that aren’t going away.
Some of the proposed cuts are from the original list of Phase 3 reductions discussed two years ago when the district slashed millions from its budget. The board stopped short of implementing the third and final round of cuts.
Others are new to the list, VanLeer said, such as eliminating the preschool and gifted programs.
“For those two programs it’s about space,” she said. “If we need the space for kindergarten through eighth grade then we have no choice.”
The preliminary list of budget cuts to be studied and the projected cost savings is as follows:
• Elimination of Growing Place preschools, $250,000;
• Budget reduction for Parents As Teachers program, $15,000;
• Elimination of gifted education (kindergarten through sixth grade), $100,000;
• Transportation (provided only for those students who live 1 mile or farther), $122,436;
• Transportation (provided 1.5 miles or farther), $361,308;
• Transportation (provided 2 miles or farther), $401,453;
• Elementary strings (orchestra) reduction (becomes after-school program only), $40,000;
• Staff salaries and benefits frozen, dollar figure not determined;
• Building and department budget cuts of 5 percent, $35,000;
• Revision of elementary special schedule (music, art, P.E.), $50,000;
• Discontinue middle school athletics and extracurricular activities, $41,548.
Board member Kevin Blackburn said he would like to have the number of students affected by each item on the list because he feels that a better way to educate voters of the impact. VanLeer said she would get those figures together.
Brian Sumner, board member, said once a list is finalized it would need to be prioritized.
“But I don’t like any of it,” he said.
Sumner also said he was concerned about the uncertainty of state funding in the years ahead which also will impact the budget.
VanLeer later told The Missourian she could sense the board was struggling with the idea of major budget cuts.
“It’s certainly not ideal, but unless the community rallies behind us we are left with no choice,” she said. “We do have a healthy reserve and we might be able to take care of some needs with that money but it can only be for one-time expenses, not reoccurring, or we will deplete our reserves.”
VanLeer stressed the cuts are not a threat or scare tactic to get patrons to approve a bond issue.
“It’s reality and we need to communicate that reality,” she said. “We did make two rounds of cuts several years ago and we talked about a third. We also talked modular trailers and we are now going through with that. Now we will have to decide what else we will have to live without if our situation doesn’t change.”