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In response to dwindling state funds and ongoing financial pressures, the Vandalia Board of Education on Wednesday approved wide-ranging cuts that will trim more than $910,000 from the district’s $14 million budget. The cuts will take effect in the 2013-14 school year, which begins July 1.
Though the cutbacks will be felt throughout the district, the impact will be most pronounced in the personnel area (a reduction of about $400,000, or 44 percent of the total cuts) and in athletics (a reduction of nearly $127,000, or 14 percent of the total cuts).
Several other areas each will see cuts of about $50,000, or 5 percent of the total cuts.
Though some of the personnel cuts will be achieved by not replacing retiring staffers, the plan does include the elimination of three full-time positions and two part-time positions out of the district’s total 240 employees. To accommodate those changes, the duties for several other positions will change.
The athletic reductions will be achieved primarily by eliminating school-sponsored transportation of athletes to away contests. Athletes, their parents or booster clubs will be responsible for transportation to those contests. Also in the athletic area, school-sponsored sixth-grade sports will be eliminated.
“Our revenue stream has dried up,” Superintendent Rich Well told a standing-room-only crowd at Wednesday’s special school board meeting. “Five or six years ago, we addressed our financial difficulties with a referendum. And last year, we cut $250,000 out of the budget for this year through retirements.
“Little did we know that the state was going to do what it’s done to us.”
What the state has done is to make state aid payments to districts late, and often at 85-90 percent of the expected revenue. As a result, the district has had to dip into the fund balance that it’s accumulated through the referendum revenues and through frugal spending during the past several years.
This year’s district budget anticipates a fund balance of $2.76 million at the end of this fiscal year on June 30. Yet, according to information provided by Well on Wednesday, the district is expecting a deficit of more than $1.5 million.
The reductions in state aid are critical for downstate districts like Vandalia, because state aid accounts for 55 percent of the funding they receive. The remainder of the funding comes from local (35 percent) and federal (10 percent) sources.
Another factor driving the changes is falling enrollment, which results in reduced state aid. Enrollment in the district now stands at just over 1,400, Well said.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, Well said that the board had the following goals as it began considering its response to the financial crisis: No property tax increase, no new debt, no significant fee increases for students, maintain state-mandated classes and maintain core classes.
Following are the cuts approved by the school board on Wednesday. These cuts are for positions only – not individuals. Determining who will be cut “is subject to evaluations and seniority,” Well said. Those specific cuts will be made after evaluations are completed in March.
• Retirements – $399,299. These positions will not be replaced, and their duties will be assumed by others.
• Athletics – $126,804. All sixth-grade sports will be eliminated. School-sponsored transportation to all away games will be eliminated.
“We went with transportation (as an area to cut) because we can tackle that as a community,” Well told The Leader-Union on Wednesday. “School vehicles can be used, but they will have to be operated by someone other than the district. Each sport will have to decide how to deal with it.”
• Band and chorus – $55,033. The current four positions (two band and two chorus) will be reduced to three, with one person being named band director for grades 7-12. Fifth-grade band will be eliminated, but concert and marching bands will remain in place for the junior high and the high school.
• Junior High Wheel – $47,286. This series of four nine-week humanities segments at the junior high school will be eliminated. The components include keyboarding, industrial tech, media and Study Island.
• Custodial – $45,303. One position will be eliminated.
• Special education – $45,000. One position will be eliminated.
• Art – $39,000. Elementary art teacher position will be eliminated. Art in grades K-4 will be taught by classroom teachers.
• Supplemental job pay stipends – $30,155. Several club sponsors will no longer receive a stipend, and class sponsors will be reduced from four to two per class.
• Administrative office staff reductions – $28,736.Secretarial staffing levels will be reduced.
• Food Service – $25,000.The Sandwich Shop at the high school will be eliminated, which means the position overseeing that operation will be eliminated.
• District extended contracts – $11,946.Teacher contract extensions (primarily for work done during the summer months) will be eliminated.
Other changes include:
– One guidance counselor position will not be filled after the retirement this spring of the junior high counselor. The remaining three guidance counselors will be assigned so that one counselor is available for each of the following grade groupings: K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.
– The driver’s education program will be reorganized. The district will still offer classroom instruction, but will no longer offer in-car driver’s education during the school day. It will be offered during the early-morning zero hour and enrichment classes, or after school, on weekends or during the summer.
– The district-sponsored industrial tech position (half-time at the high school and half-time at the junior high) will be eliminated.
“We’ve done the things that we need to do,” Well said at the school board meeting. “This is what the state has done to us. If the state would pay everything it owes to us, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
“This is not easy. And it’s not what any of us wanted to do. What we’ve tried to do is to protect the educational integrity of the district. We’re trying not to affect the kids with these cuts.”
He also noted that the bands and athletic teams have booster clubs, and said that if those clubs can generate the revenue associated with the cuts, the proposed cuts could be reversed. “The community is going to have to step up,” Well said.
In spite of the $910,405 in cuts, Well said that anticipated cost increases in the 2013/14 school year will be about $275,000 (for fuel, food and other operating items). Thus, the net savings of the cuts will be $635,405.
School board president Jay Carroll also shared his frustration with the situation.
“We’ve worked very hard to avoid this situation,” he said at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ve staved it off for several years.”
Noting that current state funding levels have been cut back to 2007 levels, he said that the board was forced to take drastic measures to cut expenses.
“We can’t continue to lose funding and not reduce expenditures,” Carroll said. “We tried not to go after programs with a chain saw, but the cuts had to be made. And the reality is that there will continue to be cuts in the future if the revenues don’t change. This is just the beginning.”
In conclusion, Well issued a challenge to the community.
“We’re going to have to attack this as a community. I think we’ll be surprised by the people who will step up. We need parents to get involved.”