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School patrons seek to keep programs

Activities, jobs, consolidation, and taxes discussed

Staff writer

USD 410 patrons filled the Gordon Mohn Community Center Thursday for a special Board of Education meeting, trying to find ways to keep programs that may become victims of budget cuts.

The board weighed what programs directly affect learning, board vice president Rod Koons said. That includes sports and activities, because learning isn’t all about books and tests, he said.

Early childhood programs, such as preschool and Parents as Teachers, are well worth the investment because they get children on the right track before school, Koons said.

Sports at risk

Mike Brouillette said that, as a father of three children that love sports, he has a personal interest in keeping as many sports as possible. He asked if the district has considered cooperating with other schools for some of the sports on the chopping block.

The Hillsboro High School wrestling program has cooperated with Goessel and Marion in the past, but doing so would force Hillsboro to compete against 4A or 5A schools, Hillsboro High School Principal Max Heinrichs said. The school has also considered instituting pay-to-play, but that won’t pay for itself unless the charge is an amount they fear some families can’t afford to pay.

High school golf, tennis, baseball, softball, and middle school wrestling were the sports the district considered cutting as part of an effort to reduce the 2010-11 budget by about $300,000.

Tammy Wintermote asked how those sports were chosen. Three main criteria were used, Superintendent Steve Noble said: how recently a sport had been established, how many students participate, and if the district leases the facilities.

Opportunities to compete outside of school were also considered, Koons said.

“We can’t be everything to everybody,” he said.

Sports, music, drama, and other activities are students’ rewards for being well behaved and working hard, Marilyn Bartel said. She suggested seeking corporate sponsorship to prevent some activity cuts.

Jobs and pay discussed

Proposals to cut one food service and one maintenance position directly affect people with families, Steve Stafford said. He asked whether the district has considered across-the-board pay cuts for teachers. Teachers in the Sterling school district accepted a 1 percent cut after the district asked for a 2 percent cut, he said.

Board president Eddie Weber said the maintenance position cut is a retirement that will not be filled.

The district would have to negotiate any teacher salary cuts, and they have been discussed, Noble said. But the district wants to keep pay competitive to attract high quality teachers, he said.

District office secretary Amy Plett said her mother is a teacher. As a child, Plett saw her mother work long hours grading assignments and preparing for school. Teachers are overworked and underpaid. It should be out of the question to ask teachers to take a pay cut, she said.

Alan Goldsby asked about administrative costs. Growing up, his district had one administrator who served as superintendent and principal for all levels. He asked how important it is to have a principal in each building.

The district cut an assistant principal position in recent years, Weber said. Principals are needed to lead staff and provide student discipline, he said. As unfortunate as it might be, schools have a different atmosphere than 30 years ago, he added.

Is consolidation in the future?

Tom Harmon asked state Rep. J. Robert Brookens when the right time for consolidation is.

Brookens said he lived through consolidation. As a youth, his school consolidated between his sophomore and junior years. The merger went smoothly because the communities were the ones that decided consolidation was right, not someone from the outside.

Efforts are being made at the statehouse to make consolidation easier and simpler, he said, but forced consolidation is seldom for the best. Mergers don’t save much money unless buildings close, he added.

Taxes

Everybody keeps talking about cuts, Jona Baltzer said.

“I think it’s about time to talk about paying for what we want,” he said, receiving applause from the gathered patrons.

David Faber asked if the district could increase local taxes.

The district would need a referendum to increase its local option budget by 1 percent, Noble said. That would scarcely be worth the effort, he said. The district also cannot increase its capital outlay levy.

Rhetoric from politicians in Topeka is slowly turning in schools’ favor, Noble said.

Board member Joe Sechrist asked Brookens about state funding.

A fiscal conservative on the education committee said the state needs to raise taxes and fund education, Brookens said. The measure was defeated, but Brookens said he believes tax increases will come, whether the state levies them or puts the onus on districts.

Last modified April 14, 2010

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