Woodsonia may survive budget cuts
Proposed $1.1 million cost-cutting package would spare eastside elementary school
An anticipated $1.1 million De Soto USD 232 budget shortfall apparently won't force the closing of Woodsonia Elementary.
Although the De Soto board of education has yet to make a final decision, members left Monday's meeting seemingly set to vote Feb. 4 to make a series of cuts and budget transfers that would keep the district's oldest and smallest elementary open.
During a work session Saturday, deputy superintendent Sharon Zoellner shared information with the that appeared to make Woodsonia an obvious target of the budgetary ax.
In November, building principals and district administrators worked to identify needs for 2002-2003, Zoellner told the board. Under what Zoellner said is the school-finance scenario most likely to be approved by the Kansas Legislature, the district would need to cut $1.1 million from those needs if the district's enrollment grows by 10 percent, she said. Should the district record the 13-percent growth it saw this year, the board would only have to identify $458,000 in cuts.
Saturday, Zoellner presented the board with a long list of cost-saving options, which she ranked by their consequences to student education. More drastic options included elimination of assistant principals, activity buses, sports, field trips, school resource officers and bus service for students living within 1.5 miles of their attendance centers. At $864,000, the Woodsonia closing was by far the largest item on the list.
But the majority of board members Monday appeared to prefer a series of other options that Zoellner ranked as least intrusive to students' education. The measures included a delay in the creation of the ROTC program at De Soto High School, elimination of one custodial position at elementary schools and the reduction of high school teachers' plan time from one block period a day to two periods a week. Principals Debbie Lynn and Joe Novak estimated the last measure would eliminate the need to hire 10 teachers at a savings of $360,000. Another $534,000 would be freed up by transferring the district's maintenance budget from the general fund to the capital outlay fund.
With Woodsonia closed, the district could transfer its staff to the new yet-to-be-named 47th Street elementary in Shawnee. Zoellner explained the move would save the district the expense of hiring new teachers, administrators and staff for a fifth elementary school while allowing it to take advantage of extra state aid that comes with students enrolled in newly opened classrooms.
The closing won the endorsement of Woodsonia Principal Cathy Grube.
"When I first heard about it, I was shocked," she said. "But when I put together the numbers, I saw we could manage quite well for at least another year."
The closing would eliminate classrooms in a growing district, meaning the student-teacher ratio will increase from this year's 18.1 to 1 kindergarten rate and 20.32 to 1 in grades one through five. But Zoellner said district class sizes would increase even under Gov. Bill Graves' proposal, the only one before the Legislature that would increase state per-pupil aid to the district.
District transportation and planning director Jack Deyoe said new-home construction in western Shawnee continues at a record pace and two new subdivisions are in the planning stage despite the recession. In addition, the first multi-family units in that area are coming online, he said.
Board member Bill Waye said Saturday that with that growth, Woodsonia's closing offered only a short-term solution to the district's budget woes and would hasten the need for another elementary school. The 47th Street school is the last new school to be constructed under the district's current bond issue. The $91.5 million bond issue that will come before district voters in May would build two new elementaries, one on the eastside and in a south-central location.
"The problem is we have one too many schools than we can afford to have," he said Saturday. "Bottom line, we build the 47th Street school one year too early. New schools are only justified when we hit the numbers. If we keep Woodsonia open, we don't have to build a new school until 2004-2005. I think we have to think really hard about a decision that would cause us to build a new school two years earlier."
However, Deyoe said Woodsonia would offer the district a one-year delay in the need to build a new elementary.
Waye and board member Jim Thomas expressed concern about the stress the closing and possible reopening of Woodsonia would put on the students transferred.
Saturday, board member Sandy Thierer argued Woodsonia's closing would allow the district to deal with the budget reductions without resorting to lay offs or program cuts being considered in other districts, they said.
After Monday's meeting, Thierer said she still believed the closing of Woodsonia was best for the district. Woodsonia could be reopened as an eastside kindergarten center or elementary school if needed, she said. That would give the district enough flexibility to avoid laying off teachers during a future budget crunch, she said.
"I don't think it's going to be one year," she said of the budget crunch. "What we're looking at is a short-sighted solution. We will have to let staff go if everything doesn't turn out rosy."
The added reliance on the capital outlay fund for maintenance could empty a fund the district has built up through year-end transfers, Thierer said.
The board agreed Monday to vote on its cost-cutting measures Feb. 4. Superintendent Marilyn Layman and Zoellner will share additional numbers on the expense and cost savings associated with staffing a fifth elementary school and closing Woodsonia.
Thierer said she would be unable to attend the Feb. 4 meeting and is asking board members to delay a decision until Feb. 18. She said she will present an alternative plan at that meeting.