Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2002

USD 232 looking at $1.9 million in cuts

Woodsonia on chopping block

January 10, 2002

Facing an almost certain cut in state aid, a committee of De Soto USD 232 administrators has suggested $1.9 million in cost-saving measures that includes the closing of Woodsonia Elementary.

Deputy Superintendent Sharon Zoellner shared the suggestions with the USD 232 Board of Education Monday. With the state experiencing a shortfall in expected tax revenue, the Kansas Legislature has to cut somewhere, Zoellner told the board. Because education is the state's leading expenditure, it was going to get hit. Making K-12 education an even more inviting target in the minds of legislators was a post-audit report released in November that found that Kansas schools were spending more on "non-instructional" items than those in surrounding states. Many legislatures have translated non-instructional to mean non-essential, she said.

"It made good news, but wasn't accurate reporting," Zoellner said.

The flawed reporting came from using old data, using too small a sampling base and inaccurate assumptions about the data, Zoellner said. She said the state was looking to make cuts in the state's budget, and since education consumes half of that budget, education funds were the first to go.

"Unfortunately, it's going to be the kids who suffer," Zoellner said.

Zoellner said this news couldn't have come at a worse time. She said with the USD 232's rapid population growth, the district can't keep up without funding.

"We needed to increase teaching staff, support staff, deal with increased utility costs, supplies and more," she said.

So Zoellner got together several administrators last Thursday to discuss where cuts in the district could be made. She said they ruled nothing out. Possible cost-saving measures recommended included removing or reducing the number of teaching aides, classified positions, volunteer groups, changing block scheduling, removing some mentoring program staff, reducing busing, closing Woodsonia Elementary School and more.

The group's suggestions found many board members frustrated, including Sandy Thierer.

"I don't see anything up here that's not a drastic measure," she said.

Superintendent Marilyn Layman was also unhappy with cutting programs and staff.

"There is no good solution," she said. "All of these are beneficial to the district, and these are just temporary solutions."

Zoellner estimated the suggested cuts would save $1.9 million. Closing Woodsonia could save an estimated $475,000, Bill Gilhaus, district director of human resources, estimated.

The thought of closing Woodsonia first shocked her, Zoellner said. But she said she is now warming to the idea.

Zoellner said the district needs about $2.5 million. If the bond issue doesn't pass in May, the district's out of luck.

"The more I thought about it, the more it made sense," Thierer said. "We need to maintain the staff we have and we need to know what we're going to do by May."

Zoellner said one of the reasons it has come down to this is that constituents aren't politically active. She said if parents were aware of the cuts the district would be forced to make, they would have put pressure on the Legislature to maintain or increase education funding.

Some board members, including Jim Plummer, suggested making drastic cuts in education to get the message across to district members and public officials, that this is a serious problem.

"What if all Kansas schools did away with sports?" he said. "If every school district cut into programs perceived as non-educational this would change some minds."

Zoellner said this problem isn't limited to De Soto.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better, and this is a problem all over the state," she said.

The school board will have a special work session at 1 p.m. Jan. 19 at the district office.

"We need some serious thought on this," said board member Bill Waye. "We need to look at all of the ramifications before we do anything."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.