Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
By Margie Wuebker
Board votes to close elementary next school year
Temporary measure meant to save money
MINSTER - School board members on Monday night unanimously voted to close the elementary school for the 2011-2012 school year as a way to cut costs.
The closing is one part of a cost-cutting plan, called Plan C, laid out by board president Kurt Forsthoefel during two community meetings in November. Closing the school on North Hanover Street is expected to save the district $320,000 annually.
Plan C also includes a 1 percent traditional income tax to replace the existing half percent income tax, which generates approximately $520,000 annually. The tax expires in late 2011.
Board members Monday didn't discuss putting a replacement levy on the ballot in May. Such action would be needed in January to meet the Feb. 2 filing deadline. The next regular board meeting is Jan. 11.
Without any replacement tax dollars, the district could be looking at a $4 million shortfall in coming years.
"We've been looking at this plan for more than six months along with other alternatives like renting the facility to someone else," Forsthoefel told The Daily Standard following the meeting. "People are not necessarily happy about us putting the elementary school into hibernation, but they understand the need."
Fellow board member Connie Meiring agreed, noting there has been positive feedback at the school level as well as from parents and district residents. They have been told the board will consider reopening the elementary school should the need arise. The building would be maintained with minimal heat and electric for possible future use.
Closing the building means transferring grades K-3 to the middle school and grades 7 and 8 to the high school.
The closing is expected to trigger staff reductions in the administrative, secretarial, library, custodial and cafeteria areas.
Forsthoefel said school officials plan to address concerns aired by residents during the coming months, including traffic and pedestrian issues and a staggered dismissal time.
People in attendance at the community meetings also questioned whether there is sufficient room for the displaced students. Retired elementary teacher Dianne Voskuhl pointed out there are 13 classrooms in the elementary building. Officials assured them the matter has been studied and there is enough room.
Along with Plan C, board members in November also proposed two other cost-cutting plans.
Plan A involved a 1.5 percent income tax to maintain the status quo - three buildings, current staffing and the current level of academic and athletic programs
Under Plan B, the board would seek a 1 percent income tax while cutting expenses by $350,000. In addition to increasing class size by having just three sections in grades K-6, the plan would put into place the state's minimum 2-mile requirement for bus service and reduce the number of coaches or institute a pay-to-play policy with students handing over $200 per sport. Other positions/programs on the chopping block included vocational agriculture, family and consumer science and the assistant band director.
The board has already implemented cuts totaling $449,942 from its $8.2 million budget through retire/rehire programs, retirement incentives, attrition and cutting extended service time.
Income tax is an advantageous way to go, according to Forsthoefel. Not only does revenue increase with income, but the burden is also spread over all wage earners.
Millage on real estate allows for no increase in revenue with the actual millage collected going down as property values rise without taking into account inflationary concerns. For example, treasurer Laura Klosterman said the district's 44 mills is collected at a rate of 26 mills.
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