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Daniel Boone Area School District parents expressed disbelief last Monday night when they heard for themselves that the district’s now half-day kindergarten program is on the chopping block as just one measure to make up a $5 million deficit in the 2013-14 budget.
The school board has until June 30 to adopt a final budget, but district administrators proposed drastic measures to balance the plan at a Dec. 6 meeting.
To make up for the $5 funding shortfall, administration propose the maximum property tax hike allowed by the state, eliminating kindergarten and all extracurricular activities including sports and marching band, eliminating two school buses, and furloughing 40 professional staff, including 28 full time positions.
Board Vice President Walter Sheehan said knowing now the financial reality — and by working to keep programs instead of discussing for months what to cut — there is time for the board and administration to find new revenue sources and also work with its contractual partners to reduce expenses.
Board Member Kevin F. McCullough said the administration did what the board instructed them to do, find a way to balance the budget.
He said the administration was not asked to also develop a contingency plan in lieu of kindergarten, or the loss of high school sports.
“It’s not that they recommend or support it, but that’s not what their directive was, and they gave us what we asked for,” said McCullough.
“We’re in a real tough spot and I know you’re tendency is to come up and express criticism, but those are the fiscal and financial responsibilities that we deal with,” said Superintendent Gary L. Otto, adding, “Taxes are a big issue locally and nationally. We don’t want to cut those programs either, but if we post a $1.2 million tax increase, people will be here about that. You need to make phone calls to legislators to change the current situation.”
He said one of the district’s larger expenses is this year’s $1.3 million pension fund increase.
“That alone would save sports and kindergarten, and we can’t change that law,” said Otto. “We have to pay that debt, so I’m serious when I say to reach out to legislators for help. Those heartfelt calls you make are important. I think they listen but I don’t know what will bring all of them to action.”
Otto said the board is obligated to balance the budget.
Sheehan repeated from a previous meeting that if there aren’t five votes from the nine-member board to pass a budget in June, the state will replace the board with people who will make the necessary cuts and pass the budget.
Despite that, Sheehan and other board members said they will not vote to eliminate kindergarten or sports.
“Our district is a year ahead of the cuts that other districts are making,” said Sheehan. “This is our first look at the budget. No one will eliminate kindergarten and sports, but we needed to start somewhere. If come February we’re still talking about these cuts, then it will be serious,” and the board would be in continued budget talks and negotiations with its contractual partners.
The meeting ended with board member Connor Kurtz questioning the board’s decision three years ago to build the $3 million sports stadium with construction account funds that could only be used for capital projects.
“There were a lot of building projects that probably weren’t needed,” said Kurtz, adding, “the boards of the past may have been wrong.”
McCullough said the district’s previous stadium was 40 years old and the district’s insurance provider was questioning the stadium’s safety — particularly the bleachers.
“We wouldn’t have had any sports if the new stadium wasn’t built,” said McCullough. “It was a necessity.”