School board looks at possible program cuts

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Like many school districts throughout the nation, Concordia public schools are in the midst of some difficult times. The school's board of education discussed possible options when it met last week.

"What we're going through is not unique to Concordia," said Mary Beth Scherer, district superintendent.

Scherer noted that, in Missouri, a popular option to reduce cost has been to reduce the number of employees on the payroll. She said more than 70 percent of school districts have cut positions and more than 80 percent anticipated making staff cuts in the coming year.

The most common way to do this is through attrition, Scherer said, but this won't work in Concordia where the only resignation to date has been for the band teacher, a position that would never be considered in cutbacks.

Other options for the district include reducing the number of courses offered, delaying the purchase of new textbooks, canceling field trips and adjusting thermostats to reduce energy use.

"None of these cuts make people happy," Scherer said. "All of these cuts have an impact on education."

Scherer presented the board with a detailed breakdown of the proposed cuts, divided into three phases. If all three phases were carried out in full, the district would see a savings of about $150,000.

One of the proposed cuts was to eliminate the career ladder for teachers. This program provides teachers with additional pay in return for their continuing career development and service to the district.

Among the services funded by career ladder are the annual elementary science Olympiad, tutoring, curriculum development, parent interaction events and professional development.

It was noted that cutting career ladder funding affects more than just teachers as many of the program's endeavors involve students, parents and the community.

"It was never a question that these cuts were going to hurt," Scherer said. "It was just a matter of where the hurt would be."

The district is also considering going to voters to ask for a levy increase. Scherer said before this option is actively pursued, the district needs to be able to tell patrons what the alternatives are. That way, she said, people will know what will be lost if the levy increase is not approved.

Scherer provided the board with a handout detailing the potential new revenue from the levy increase. On the low end, a 25-cent increase would bring in an estimated $109,125 while an increase of 60 cents would generate an additional $281,614.

The district's current levy is set $3.67, higher than the previous two years, but still lower than the levels seen between 1991 and 2006. Since 1990, the levy has gone over the $4 mark twice.

The handout also provides an example of the potential impact on a homeowner whose house is valued at $175,000. A 25-cent increase in the levy would raise the individual's annual tax by $43. If the levy were increased by the full 60 cents, the annual tax would jump $96.25.

Although the discussion was lengthy, the board did not take any action regarding the potential cuts or levy issue. Instead, they instructed Scherer to continue exploring options and to report back at its next meeting.

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