R-II school board approves first round of budget cuts

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Faced with a bleak financial outlook, the Concordia R-II Board of Education made a first round of budget cuts, with a second round planned in the event that a proposed levy issue fails in April.

Superintendent Mary Beth Scherer has been working with the board come up with a way to turn back the tide of red ink facing the budget.

She noted that the district has a deficit budget for the current year, adding that it does not have the reserves to continue to do so next year.

Scherer said the idea was to make broad budget reductions in the first round.

"We tried to make cuts that do not target any one department," she said.

Based on a survey taken before last week's meeting, Board Member Tony Bittiker put forth a motion to make the following changes in the 2010-2011 budget:

-- one less day of tech support for the district ( a reduction from 3 to 2 days per week)

-- $10,000 cut in the technology supply budget

-- 10 percent cut in the classroom materials and supplies budget

-- cut $4,000 out of the extra-curricular budget

-- cut professional learning communities funding

-- cut high school transportation funding by $2,000

-- eliminate summer school for June 2010

-- cut superintendent's spouse insurance

-- eliminate additional summer custodians

-- cut cell phone stipends

-- do not apply for matching FV-4 vocational funds

-- reduce new band teacher stipend from 15 percent to 12 percent

Scherer said the proposed cuts would save an estimated $64,000.

Some board members expressed concern over cutting things like tech support and the technology budget.

Board Member Rob Hemme asked what would happen, for example, if a network server computer were to fail.

Scherer said the budget is flexible and can be made to accommodate such emergencies.

"We will buy what we need to buy to get by," she said. "There are things you've got to do."

Not everyone could get behind the proposal, however. Board Member Alan Deatherage said he opposed the decision to not apply for matching FV-4 Vocational Funds.

Because the program provides a match to the district, when the district doesn't put up its $2,400 it actually takes $4,800 away from the program.

In the end, the cuts were approved by a 6-1 majority with Deatherage casting the lone dissenting vote.

Included in the approved proposal was a tentative second round of cuts that will take place if voters turn down a levy increase proposal that will appear on the April 2010 ballot.

Those cuts include:

-- elimination of two part time staff positions

-- elimination of two support staff positions

-- cutting elementary basketball and cheerleading

-- cutting competition cheerleading and junior high cheerleading

-- cutting all staff pay 1.2-2 percent across the board

-- elimination of one bus route

-- cutting all extra-curricular stipends 3 percent.

Deciding what size of a levy increase to pursue also divided the board. In a previous meeting, Deatherage said he would not be able to support a levy increase of more than 30 cents, but last week raised his maximum to 40 cents.

Scherer said the district's patrons have long enjoyed a relatively low levy. She said that at $3.67 per $100 of assessed valuation, Concordia's levy is lower than any district in the I-70 Conference or Lafayette County. When looking at neighboring districts, only Sweet Springs is close with a current levy of $3.85. The average is about $4.40 with the highest being Lone Jack's levy of $5.45.

"It's the lowest in the area period," she said, but added that if the district continues to keep its current tax level it runs the risk of failing in its educational mission.

Scherer said the district would benefit most from a 60-cent levy increase, but she is not sure voters would approve such a spike. The last time the district went to voters for a levy increase was 1993.

It was in 1993, and again in 1996, that the district's levy peaked at $4.02.

Scherer said it was important to note that the funds generated by the levy were needed to maintain current programs.

"We're filling a gap," she said. "We aren't building reserves. We aren't bringing in more money to fund new programs."

Board member Bart Brackman said he felt it was in the districts best interest to pursue as high a levy increase as could be achieved. He said doing so would be the best way to secure the district's budget for the next three to five years.

Board member Doug Limback agreed and made a motion to put a 45-cent levy increase before voters. With a second from Brackman, the matter was put to a vote. Deatherage once again voted in opposition, this time joined by Hemme, but the issue still had a 5-2 majority and passed.

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