The Luther School Board made quick work Tuesday night of slashing nearly $800,000 from the budget for the 2016-2017 school year – cutting teachers, textbooks, teacher aides, night janitors, one bus route, summer school and the popular high school art and Design Fabrication programs. With little discussion or explanation in the second such special meeting, the board quietly passed the reduction, with just one no vote from Charles DeFuria.
The cuts are an effort to “right-size” the district’s finances as a result of overspending and state budget cuts.
In addition, the school board surprisingly skipped a vote on a four-day school week, and voted instead on a shortened school year with longer days. Two board members voted against that option – Sherri Anderson and Steve Broudy who said after the meeting that all cuts are detrimental to each child’s education.
Teachers and staff members at the meeting expressed shock at the notion next fall will bring longer school days, and likely larger class sizes. Maintenance staff wondered how they would keep the school clean and operational without going over their 40 hour work weeks.
“I believe these numbers do accurately and will sufficiently restore Luther to financial health,” said Dr. Sheldon Buxton, superintendent. He said if the financial numbers and appropriations improve for the school district, some of the programs could be brought back.
Although the board cut the popular Design & Fabrication program, at least one citizen is spearheading an effort to raise funds for the salary of teacher Mark Dunn and the program. Harrah resident Tindle Arnold has been a supporter of the class. The board last week approved a plan to accept such funds for specific purposes.
“This would be a serious undertaking and I can say a push for funding should be done smartly and naturally. It should be the board’s desire to keep an awesome program,” said Arnold who said she will quickly research giving options through a local bank or online source. Dunn was not at the meeting.
Meanwhile, art teacher Lisa Mansell said she was numb and heartbroken for her students. She wondered what the school would do with the kiln and other expensive equipment bought for the art class just a couple of years ago.
Board member Charles DeFuria presented his own 17-item budget cutting plan that featured moving the superintendent’s office and reducing the superintendent’s salary by 20 percent and other things. However, he didn’t attach any proposed cost savings because he said he did not get cooperation on data from the administration. The motion did not get a second and failed. DeFuria said regardless, he wanted the plan as part of the record. “The main point of this proposal is that it did not RIF any teachers,” he said.
Cuts that were approved include:
- Elementary music $56,434.53
- Early Childhood Teacher $47,320
- Two early childhood aides $25,490
- Elementary teachers: two full-time $82,677
- Elementary part-time teacher $39,512
- Elementary full-time sub $10,853
- Design & Fabrication $44,191
- Middle school teacher $57,901
- Middle school full-time sub $12,553
- High school art program $40,315
- High school teachers: two full-time $99,855
- Two night janitors: $47,714
- Contract mowing: $27,262
- One bus route: $13,812
- Four elementary special ed aides: $36,983
- Elementary library aide: $10,091
TOTAL PERSONNEL COSTS: $652,973 (net)
- Other cuts
- Non-renewal on two bus leases: $25,000
- Summer school: $26,000
- Textbooks: $66,523
TOTAL GENERAL FUND REDUCTION $797,997 (net)
For the third-time the board rejected a four-day school week for an estimated savings of $150,000. Dr. Buxton indicated the four-day had become a popular choice among many districts to cope with budget reductions.
The board ignored that plan and instead voted on the little-discussed shortened school year. As a sample calendar presented (up for adjustment during the May regular school board meeting) the school year would begin August 17, 2016 and end May 4, 2017. The school calendar would feature longer breaks for fall break, Thanksgiving, winter break and spring break with an estimated school day of 8:00 am – 3:30 pm for a total of about 156 school days. There were no hard numbers on the proposed savings, although Dr. Buxton indicated it would also be about $150,000 in savings.
School Board President Matt Mohr said he received strong feedback against a four-day school week from parents. He said the five-day shortened year will help the district because it allows the district to shut down for blocks of time, rather than one day a week. He said that would be easier to manage and less disruptive.