Last night was a very important meeting of your Swanton Board of Education. To accommodate an expected larger crowd, the venue was changed to Park School, where the audience sat on a section of uncomfortable bleachers to listen to the BOE conduct business and a joint presentation on the district's financial situation by treasurer Joyce Kinsman and acting superintendent Les Schultz.
A number of folks had indicated their desire to address the Board, and were allowed to do so early. While board president Kris Oberheim reminded everyone of the time stipulations by reading the policy covering the issue, no one was cut short in their comments - even though more than one took more than their allotted 3 minutes.
The overriding theme of the comments, in my opinion, seemed to be: "(we) understand the financial situation of the district, but DON'T CUT my (job), (favorite class), (department), etc. because it will hurt the kids."
Hey - ya know what?? When a budget needs to be trimmed, whether it's a school district budget or a personal budget at home, everyone connected to that budget - including the kids - is affected. That's how life works in the real world. What's that old adage? "Life ain't fair."
I'm not sure if the meeting was recorded last night, so it is unclear whether a podcast will be forthcoming (especially since the meeting recordings are woefully behind on the district website). But the information shared jointly by Ms. Kinsman and Mr. Schultz was solid and well presented. Questions were allowed from the audience at various points, and several people were able to ask and receive answers.
At issue were the proposed budget cuts being considered by the Board. In case you don't get the Swanton Enterprise, the list of items being considered included the elimination of 2 teachers and 2 secretaries, with another teacher and library aide having their time reduced. An elementary music position and industrial arts position were being considered for elimination, and the Spanish teacher position reduced to half-time.
Other items on the list included strength and conditioning coach, department chairs, grade level chairs, the middle school annual and newspaper, elementary student council advisors and the Spanish Club and middle school quiz team advisors. These are all "supplemental" positions, which pay a set percentage on top of the regular teachers' regular salaries of those who hold these positions.
Several references were made by members of the audience to what Swanton "used to have", in regard to programs and teachers, etc. No one waxed nostalgic over the debacle in 2002 when the district was placed into "fiscal caution" by the state of Ohio for poor financial management. No one remembered the embarrassment and angst from back then, when virtually every resident of the district swore to "never let THAT happen again!" No one mentioned the income tax levy that took several times at the ballot before it was passed - mostly because residents were angry that the money they had already been giving wasn't being handled properly and why would the response be to throw more money at the problem? Only one person where I was sitting remembered the income tax collecting far more than anticipated - which is how we happen to have a positive balance in the bank right now to help carry us through these difficult financial times. One perennially angry person made the ignorant statement that the board was trying to balance the budget on the "backs of the teachers." Puh-leez
Mr. Schultz was forthright about the ever-increasing demands of the State for graduation requirements. Where a high school diploma used to be had for 18 credits, it now requires 24 - and these items are in core subjects like math, science, reading/literature, etc.
Repeatedly during the PowerPoint presentation, we were reminded that - if nothing changed, at our current rate of expenditure the district will be out of money by the 2014-15 fiscal year. That isn't just a comment on deficit spending - it also reflects the loss over time of the carryover balance that is in the bank right now, as the district would continue to dip into that fund to make up for shortfalls each year.
Clearly cutbacks in expenses must occur. The only question to be decided is which particular items will be on the chopping block. If the Board decides to cut this one, these people will be angry. If the Board decides to cut that one, those people will be angry. It's a "no win" situation, but no one runs for school board to be popular. (Trust me.)
It was also emphasized that the renewal of the Emergency Levy must occur. The audience was introduced to Anne Cook, who is the new levy chairman and who shared how the committee plans to address the August ballot. (hmmm . . . maybe she can even convince our self-nominated "Outstanding Board Member" to actually VOTE this time, since that person didn't bother to vote when the levy was on the ballot this spring . . . )
When the Board left to go into executive session to hammer out the final details, my husband and I left. Many others stayed to hear first-hand what decisions were made. The Board had to decide last night what to cut, because the May filing deadline to the state of the updated 5-Year Forecast is upon them. We said a prayer for wisdom for our 5 school board members.
And this morning, the results were the same as listed on the district website. You can read it all here.