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01-14-04: St. Marys board to look at closing primary school(s)


St. Marys City Schools board of education members are to begin discussions this evening on potential budget-cutting moves to head off a future deficit. Among the possible reductions is closure of at least one of the district’s elementary schools.
The school board holds its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the high school library. Administra-tion officials and board members are expected to discuss how they will balance the budget, but no decisions are expected to be made at that time.
“There will definitely be plenty of discussion,” said Rees McKee, recently elected to the board.
But McKee was hesitant to discuss whether the district might be forced to close an elementary school to balance its finances. Speculation has swirled for weeks about the fate of Moulton and Noble elementary schools.
Administration officials already have provided board members with a list of potential cuts to consider, McKee said, although he would not discuss specific items on the list. He admitted, though, that “just about everything” is on the list. Another new board member, Craig Gottschalk concurred, saying that “anything and everything will be on the table.”
McKee and Gottschalk both cautioned that no decisions are likely at tonight’s meeting. The public apparently will have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
“I know there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of Moulton or Noble schools being closed to save money, but as far as I know, we won’t be closing any schools tonight,” McKee said. “This thing is too big. We need more discussion.”
Superintendent Paul Blaine could not be reached this morning in his office.
School district officials have projected a budget deficit of $1.8 million to end 2006 that would grow to $7.6 million in 2008, assuming there are no budget reductions or new levies to boost revenue.
Treasurer Peg Grimm has estimated that $2.4 million-$3.6 million in annual cuts would be necessary through 2008 without any new money.
Board members have placed a five-year, 7.9-mill property tax levy on the March 2 ballot to help offset some of the project shortfall. That levy would generate $1.84 million annually.
A 1 percent income tax ballot issue that would have brought in $2.1 million annually failed at the polls last November, along with a separate building issue. The failure of the income tax forced school board members to look at future budget cuts because state law requires any district do so if its five-year financial forecast shows a deficit in any year.
Board members have set aside the building issue for now, instead choosing to focus on fixing the operating budget problems.


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