Yellow Springs School Board

Board hears concerns on proposed cuts

The May 14 school board meeting was held at Yellow Springs High School at 4 p.m. before, at its high point, an audience of approximately 40 people. Board President Aida Merhemic opened the meeting with an apology for the timing of the meeting, which was scheduled so as not to conflict with the schools’ spring music festival.

The board heard statements from many community members who opposed proposed budget cuts, including multiple concerns about the orchestra and the special education programs, and also concerns regarding communication between the board and the village. The board also received a statement from a parent group making a fiscal argument for full-day kindergarten in the upcoming school year.

The board passed the coming year’s Education Plan with a vote of 4 to 1, with Angela Wright voting no. The board also passed the district’s five-year forecast with a vote of 3–2, with Sean Creighton and Wright voting no. The five-year forecast projects a negative cash balance by 2012–2013, the result of five consecutive years of greater expenses than income.

Schools face cuts
Several factors contribute to the expected budget shortfall in upcoming years, according to District Treasurer Joy Kitzmiller, who presented a PowerPoint overview of funding for the school district for the five-year forecast. Those factors include declining tax revenues, investment income and state funding, Kitzmiller said.

The five-year forecast, which was passed by the school board showing a spending deficit for the next four years and a negative cash balance in the fifth, is required to be approved and filed with the Ohio Department of Education at least twice yearly.

The district budget is comprised of 32 percent state funding, 64 percent local funding, and 4 percent federal funding, Kitzmiller said. Reliance on local funding to that degree is not typical, so any changes in income taxes or real estate taxes collected at the local level “really affect our district,” she said.

Local income tax and real estate tax revenues have decreased this year, the first time Kitzmiller has seen a reversal in her almost 10 years as treasurer, she said. In addition, the school district has largely lost its investment income because of a stagnant securities market, which previously earned the district as much as $200,000 in a year.

State revenues are also down due to the economy, with the state projecting a $6 to 9 million hole in its projected revenues for the year. Adding another unknown to the district’s budget forecast, the state is moving to a “unit-funded model” instead of a “per-student funding model” as part of Governor Strickland’s Education Bill proposal, which is likely to reduce state funding.

Open enrollment funds remain yet another fiscal challenge for the district. Money given to the district for open enrollees has been “flatlined” by the state, meaning the district will not receive any more money than it currently receives, regardless of the number of open enrollees the district takes in, Kitzmiller said.

The five-year forecast is based on historical data and is to be considered a living document, Kitzmiller said. It will be changed and modified as more solid financial figures come in from the county (especially in July, when the local tax receipts come to the district) and the state (in October, when the Education Bill is expected to be finalized).

“We really do want to hear from the community about what you want, but what we really need to hear from you is what we can get rid of,” board vice-president Anne Erickson said. “This five-year forecast shows what will happen if we keep doing what we are doing right now,” which is not an option, she said.

And if the community wants to pay higher taxes in lieu of cutting programming, Sean Creighton said, “then tell us that, too.”

Community concerns
In response to proposed budget cuts, several community members spoke in support of an orchestra position funded at full time instead of the proposed decrease to a 5/7 position.

“There are more jobs than there are applicants” in the field of music education, said former orchestra director Yvonne Wingard, a situation she said will make it difficult for the district to find someone to fill a position that is not full time with benefits.

The district is only saving about $6,000 dollars annually by dropping the orchestra position to 5/7 time, according to parent Dave Finster, and that if it has the potential to retain solid arts programming, he said, “$6,000 dollars seems to me money well spent.”

Reading a letter drafted for the school board by a group of high school students, YSHS sophomore Anne Weigand said that middle school and high school music programming is an integral part of the student experience, and that the musical knowledge gleaned by the students makes youth, in turn, an integral part of the larger Yellow Springs community.

Speaking of the schools’ world music and guitar classes, McKinney orchestra teacher Eric Aho urged the board to keep those classes that truly engage the students he called “fringe kids.” The district has a very special “cutting edge” program that needs to be protected, Aho said, because “garage band” kids are “left out of the musical education pie” in schools nationwide.

Later, board member Wright offered to donate $3,000 towards a full-time funded orchestra position, but Superintendent Norm Glismann cautioned that the district would not be able to absorb the costs in the following year.

There seems an apparent contradiction between the board’s interests in developing “integrated arts education” in the district while cutting standard arts programming, according to parent Theresa Mayer.

Glismann noted that the cuts proposed to the 2009–2010 budget are not “substantive cuts,” but that they represent “shifts” which the board thought would be less painful ways to begin adjusting the budget to the realities of funding.

Communication a concern
The board is “really behind” in communicating with teachers, parents, and community members, according to board member Angela Wright, who said that the board should make educating and interacting with the community a greater priority.

Mayer asked the board to communicate with the community about changes at the state level that could have a negative effect on the district’s funding, so that the community can mobilize and advocate at the state level.

Parent Dave Turner asked the board for a more effective way for community members to engage in decision-making about the schools than offering a comment at a meeting now and then.

“Part of the communications process you could provide should include on-going quality control and participation and feedback from the users as well as those on the inside,” he said.

Teachers have insight to offer on how cuts can be made responsibly, said teacher Deeanne Holly, who asked the board to utilize teachers’ input because they see first hand the effects of cuts and restructurings, she said.

Concerns on special education
The meeting also included discussion about the special education program, which is scheduled to lose its parent mentor. Moira Laughlin, who introduced herself at the meeting as the “soon to be former” parent mentor for the district, explained her role as a “liason between parents with kids with disabilities and the school district” who works with parents to ensure they understand the special education system. Laughlin noted that this is a legal obligation of the district.

“Because the percentage of children in this district is considerably larger than most districts,” helping families navigate the system “will continue to be an issue,” she said.

Therese Tilton, a parent of a high school student in the special education program, expressed frustrations with the program that have had no resolution, and said she is “appalled” at the lack of leadership in special education, noting “indiscretions” in the way the program is handled. Her statements were in support of keeping the parent mentor position, which she feels is a necessity.

According to Superintendent Glismann at the meeting, another mentor will fulfill this need, at no cost to the district, he said, referring to a county funded position.

Glismann noted that the district is “very high” on the student to teacher ratios in the special education department, and that staffing in this area is “fluid” and subject to change depending on enrollment, which could precipitate the need for more staff next year. Special education teacher Jody Chick noted that Mills Lawn’s caseload is already three students over state ratio standards.

In other school board business:

• YSHS Principal John Gudgel stated that there is enough participation to offer all AP classes at the school next year.

Also at the high school, a goal was added to the Education Plan to assess equity in female participation in sports, which is underway, and to implement a comprehensive at-risk program, which would include tutoring, peer mentoring, online correspondence courses, independent study courses, and “intensive oversight” for at-risk learners, Gudgel said.

• A group of parents represented by Philip Bottelier attended the meeting to argue for implementing a full-day kindergarten program next year, instead of waiting for the governor to mandate full-day kindergarten the following year.

Given that the district needs to hire a teacher for a third half-day session next year because of high enrollment, the group suggested the district take the opportunity to implement full-day programming. This would allow the district to utilize the expertise of veteran teacher Becky Brunsman and eliminate or reduce the need for mid-day bussing.

• The next school board meeting will be held Thursday, June 11, at 7 p.m., in Mills Lawn’s Graham Conference Room.

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