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Plymouth County schools find ways to make cuts

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Editor's note: This is the second of two stories looking at budget cuts for Plymouth County schools.

Plymouth County school districts are trying to figure out ways to reduce already lean budgets.

Because Legislators haven't decided whether or not to cut the 2 percent allowable growth, each school district does not know yet if it will receive state funding.

If the 2 percent allowable growth is cut, each school district will have to adjust its internal budget to rectify loss of monies.

Hinton Community School:

Larry Williams, Hinton interim superintendent, said the school board boiled three options down to a consolidated one at its Monday meeting.

The final option includes $438,000 worth of reductions in a projected $5.95 million budget, said Williams.

Reductions include cutting:

* An elementary classroom teacher.

* The full-time industrial technology teacher will teach during five periods instead of eight.

* One half-time elementary physical education position.

* One half-time Title I position -- a position previously funded by one-time federal stimulus money, Williams said.

* One secretary position.

* Williams' contract and salary were reduced 10 percent.

* The administrators will take no raise for next year.

* Raises for non-certified staff will be limited to 2 percent.

* The summer band position will not be funded. But that won't go into effect until summer 2011 because the band director is under contract for this coming summer.

* The counselors extended contract days were reduced by a total of three days.

* Assistant coaches were reduced in baseball, softball, football, volleyball and men's and women's basketball.

The board's goal was to reach $411,000 with these reductions, but the total amount cut was $438,000.

"That suggests to you that my board has been prudent enough to find reductions that more than meet our probable need, accommodating a worse-than-anticipated scenario," Williams said.

Another goal for the board was to affect students as little as possible.

"We're obviously trying to maintain as closely as we can the class sizes we have," Williams said. "We're trying not to decimate the program."

He also said money struggles are not more taxing at Hinton than any other district.

"It's challenging work made difficult by economic circumstances that the state is facing," Williams said. "I don't particularly see this straightening out or easing up overnight. I think we're going to be in a three-year cycle at least where the resources are going to be kind of hard to come by."

While Williams is the interim superintendent, he has agreed to stay next year to help guide the district through these troubled times of tight budget resources.

"There are no tricks in the bag; there's just hard pain-staking work," Williams said. "I have many years of experience, and while it's never fun and it's not easy, I'm capable of doing it."

Remsen-Union Community School:

Superintendent Ken Howard said cuts for Remsen-Union will include somewhere between $135,000-$185,000.

But this year officials can't promise the levy rate won't be adjusted next year to recoup some of the $266,000 the district lost this year.

Remsen-Union has been pretty conservative throughout the last few years, helping lower the levy rate the last three years, explained Howard.

"We're trying to hold spending down, doing internal reductions and everything else," Howard said. "The thought is, even if you have to raise your levy rates slightly this year, it's better than waiting another year and have an outrageous levy rate increase next year because you weren't proactive."

He added using unspent balance or cash reserves is another option to make up for the loss of money.

"We have various other things too, everything from cutting supplies to moving some jobs around where other individuals are taking on positions that wouldn't normally be on their list of duties," Howard said.

Kingsley-Pierson Community School

During a meeting Monday, Superintendent Scott Bailey said the school board examined what the budget would look like next year through three different lenses:

* 2 percent allowable growth with a 4 percent increase in expenditures,

* 2 percent allowable growth with a 3 percent increase in expenditures,

* 0 percent allowable growth with a 3 percent increase in expenditures.

"We're always watching our budget numbers but until [legislators] decide what schools are getting -- 2 percent, zero -- we can't put things into action," Bailey said. "Until they make a decision, it's a guessing game."

He hopes to see some definite numbers by the end of March but the board is prepared for what they think would be the worst case scenario -- 0 percent allowable growth.

"For now, we're trying to look at all options and trying to continue with the programs that we currently have," Bailey said.

To save money, Bailey said his school district is looking at a common calendar, which would involve sharing teaching opportunities with other schools.

No other cuts are on the table.

"We made $200,000 in cuts last year and that put us in a better position than most school districts this year," Bailey said. "Our spending authority is going down but it's not as bad as it could have been if we didn't make the cuts."

Akron-Westfield Community School

What is vitally important for students?

That's the biggest question the Akron-Westfield School Board is trying to answer, said Tony Ryan, superintendent.

Even though no official budget numbers are available for Akron-Westfield, the board is still aware cuts will need to be made.

"It's a situation where we have to truly dig in as administrators to check into seeing what's vitally important for our students," Ryan said. "What are the other areas that we can get by without for a year or two to weather the finance storm?"

To find the answer, the Akron-Westfield administrators started looking at Chapter 12 -- the bare minimums required by the state as far as academics.

Once establishing that, they evaluated everything which goes above and beyond Chapter 12, Ryan explained.

"We don't want to sacrifice more than we necessarily need to because, ultimately, it's the students who get the consequences of every decision that is made," Ryan said. "But on the same token, we have to be responsible. We can't be spending more than we bring in, hands down."

The school is also trying to identify new, out-of-the-ordinary planning approaches.

Administrators are also re-analyzing what will be charged next year for registration fees, Ryan said.

"Now is that something that we want to do? No, no necessarily," Ryan said. "But, a few dollars here, a few dollars there may help us out with the big picture."

Supply purchases are also being limited; and staffing patterns are being reviewed as well as enrollment patterns.

Akron-Westfield officials is also looking at neighboring districts to see what it can share ranging from administrative to teaching services.

But Ryan said he's trying to focus beyond the financial storm.

During one of his recent classroom visits, Ryan noticed a magnet on the teacher's filing cabinet that read, "Thunderstorms bring rainbows."

It was a simple message he couldn't forget.

"Every school district in the state is kind of battling this challenge together," Ryan said. "Although this is a rough storm financially, we'll get through it and we'll be better people, better educators and a better system because of it."

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How many latinas transferred to the South Sioux City school district this year even though they live in Le Mars?

-- Posted by goodoleboys on Wed, Mar 10, 2010, at 4:14 PM

This is terrible that our school administrators have to figure out where to cut that affects students the least. There are too many valuable programs that are going to be cut down or eliminated. I don't know about anyone else, but I cannot think of a single program that should be affected due to a funding issue. For example, what would I have to pay you to pull your child out of an at-risk program or keep your child from playing sports? What is the top dollar figure you are willing to pay before you say "no my child's education isn't worth that much"? Kind of hard to put a dollar figure on it, but after reading comments here and in other forums, people seem to do it.

It is also terrible for our teachers (you know, the ones that motivate, guide and teach our children) Older teachers are in fear of being forced to retire and younger teachers are in fear of being laid off due to cuts. The others that are left are going to have pick up the extra work without added incentives. They are also going to be criticized for their pay and work hours, but I guess that's been going on for years.

I don't know of any other profession that is berated so much and depended on so much at the same time. It's like the saying "those that can't do, teach" (right BK!), what kind of crap is that. Whoever says a phrase like this has obviously never stepped in a classroom. There are too many people that treat teachers like second class citizens, yet without them were would we be today? Just remember if it wasn't for teachers you wouldn't be able to read this.

But this is just my opnion.

-- Posted by cranemaster on Wed, Mar 10, 2010, at 4:59 PM

Hey goodoleboys why do you want to pick on Latinas? They are not the only ones that have exercised their right to open enroll. I know of some girls that are Hispanic and Caucasian that have also open enrolled. Maybe you just have a problem with Latin American girls???

-- Posted by cranemaster on Thu, Mar 11, 2010, at 8:38 AM

It is time to look at cutting the administration. I believe that we, here at Hinton, are top heavy. No disrespect to any one administrator, but when you compare with the neighboring districts, Gehlen, Lawton, Moville, Akron and Kingsley, we have at least one more administrator than each of them. We have a six FTE administrators at Hinton including the superintendent, three principals, and two guidance counselors. All of the others listed have either four or five similar positions. One admin position is worth approximately $100,000 or more. Not too many years ago at Hinton there was one supt/high school principal, one elementary principal and one counselor. Why the need to double to six now? As a district patron, I believe we need to look more closely at cutting administration.

I respect Mr. William's efforts, but with the exception of his pay cut (kudos to him by the way) all cuts are completely student-centered. The teachers, title instructor, coaches and the secretary ALL have direct contact with and impact on the students. I believe the board needs to reconsider their options.

-- Posted by Forthestudents on Thu, Mar 11, 2010, at 12:48 PM

I don't know enough about open enrollment. It doesn't seem logical to me that one can live in Le Mars, Iowa and open enroll in South Sioux City, Nebraska. How does the money transfer? Do we send Iowa dollars to pay for open enrollees to attend school in nebraska?

-- Posted by goodoleboys on Thu, Mar 11, 2010, at 4:01 PM

As far as my experience goes, when you want enroll as a non-resident out of state student in South Dakota the full tuition comes out of your pocket. I am not sure how Nebraska does it. This of course works a little different for border school districts like Akron that have an agreement with the neighboring South Dakota district. Also if these "Latina "girls transferred after a certain date the money still stays with LCS anyway.

-- Posted by cranemaster on Thu, Mar 11, 2010, at 4:59 PM

If anyone listens to the news they can tell you that when it comes to lay offs or cuts it is seldom from the upper ranks, the highest paid, that are first to go. They will lay off a lot of lower paid workers before they even think about taking a cut or trimming from the upper levels.

In Germany school is just that. Sports or other activities are done outside of school and they cost those that participate. After a certain, I think it would be like our 8th grade,level the students are separated according to how well they have done. Some will go right into the work force, some to learn a trade and some to go on to higher education. This we learned from an exchange student.

-- Posted by giblem on Thu, Mar 11, 2010, at 5:21 PM

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