Buchanan citizens brainstorm ways to cut school costsPublished 10:47am Tuesday, February 23, 2010
By KATIE JOHNSON
Niles Daily Star
BUCHANAN – How far would you go to save your child’s quality of education? Would you eliminate bus routes? Charge students for parking passes? Implement a “pay to play” system for sports?
Those were questions about 75 citizens tried to answer Monday night at Buchanan High School.
The Board of Education held an informational session and public input discussion following its regular meeting in response to the community’s feedback about the proposed closure of Stark Elementary. Citizens packed the library at Moccasin Elementary Jan. 18 to voice their opinions about rumors a facilities committee had recommended closing the school to save the district at least $150,000 per year.
Buchanan Schools was running a $453,000 deficit for 2009-10. With the loss of 56 students from the 2008-09 count to the 2009-10 count, the district experienced about a $165-per-student reduction. It also has $100,000 more in retirement costs. As a result, the district is now running a $1.036 million deficit.
Superintendent Diana Davis outlined during her presentation in the auditorium Buchanan’s need to cut about $1 million from its budget, and what cuts have been implemented so far. Next, the audience and board members split into about five groups to brainstorm ideas for cuts, changes and revenue generation. Each group presented their ideas following the breakout session. The board will then assess the suggestions.
Davis explained that since 1975, enrollment at Buchanan Schools has plummeted by 709 students.
“At what point do we just close the district?” citizen Kurt Brown asked in the breakout group with facilitator and board member Harvey Burnett.
“In three years, we’re going to be right back where we’re at,” citizen Brian Kilgore said. “We can cut until we’re blue in the face, and there isn’t going to be nothing left.”
Cuts don’t attract students, their group said, especially with Schools of Choice being a factor.
“You got to look at it as a business,” Kilgore said.
Their group suggested moving fifth grade to the middle school and eighth grade to the high school; charging high school students for parking passes; encouraging teachers at the top of the pay scale to retire; reducing kindergarten to 2-1/2 days; paying teachers a stipend to clean rooms; cutting the Math/Science Center; and the “pay to play” idea of charging students to participate in sports, among many other ideas.
“I think the ‘pay to play’ concept isn’t a bad idea,” citizen Dennis Wentworth said. He suggested going to voters for a millage, which would generate more revenue to ensure “more efficient schools” to attract students, rather than deter them with cuts and reduced options.
Davis said the board does not want to ask voters for an increase in millage now, calling it “not a good time to be asking people for money.” Also, the district cannot legally vote on a millage for operating expenses.
She said that payroll alone accounts for 83 percent of the budget.
“We are a people business,” Davis said. “Most of our budget is payroll.
“Our fund balance is like your life savings,” she explained to the audience “It doesn’t happen overnight. A fund balance is not like a slush fund.”
Some districts borrow money, she said, but it has to be paid back with interest.
Buchanan has taken action already to cut costs, including holding off on a $80,000 replacement bus, $12,000 in sports transportation, $50,000 in curriculum purchases and $16,500 in teaching supplies. Buchanan has also eliminated administrator and teacher raises, overtime for hourly staff and some support staff hours. In the past three years, the district has eliminated a middle school assistant principal, community education director, school nurse, in-school suspension and only purchases used buses.
“These were not popular or easy choices,” Davis said.
A popular idea among citizens was cutting back or eliminating bussing; Davis was critical of the suggestion.
“My hunch is that other districts would drive their buses right in here and take our kids,” she said.
Many audience members asked what other neighboring schools are doing with the lack of state funding.
“I can tell you, most of them are cutting staff,” Davis said. “I think you can tell it’s the board’s goal not to cut staff.
“We are being told do not expect any new money for several years … we do not know what that means,” she said. “Districts all over the state are having these same discussions – not just Buchanan.”
Citizens’ ideas from the brainstorming session
• Charge for parking passes
• Charge for extracurricular transportation
• Eliminate or reduce bus routes
• Consolidate administrative positions
• Consolidate services with other districts
• Move the fifth grade to the middle school and the eighth grade to the high school
• Implement a “pay to play” system for sports
• Pay teachers to clean rooms
• Eliminate the Math/Science Center
• Go to voters for a millage
• Research alternative energy options, like solar panels and wind turbines
• Partner with the Buchanan Art Center for art instruction
• Contract out counseling services
• Charge for preschool
• Cut Instant Alert
• Cut Study Island
• Have a common start time for all buildings
• Promote and advertise the district more
• Limit distance school will travel for sports competitions
• Outsource accounting, payroll or administrators
• Cut the athletic director
• Cut the business manager
• Cut teachers