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01-20-04: Moulton is likely pick if school must close


ST. MARYS — Moulton Elementary School most likely will close at the end of this school year, St. Marys board of education members said during a Monday night meeting to discuss a budget reduction plan.
“Is there any interest in keeping it (Moulton) open?” board member Craig Gottschalk asked other board members and the crowd of more than 130.
Moulton Principal Lisa Elson expressed her desire to keep the school open, and Mike Petzrak, who has children attending the school, said he liked the small-school atmosphere.
However, board members seemed to think closing the school was inevitable. The move would save the district $1.15 million during a four-year period, the budget reduction plan says.
“If we keep it open, how long is it? Is it one year, two years? I think the time is now,” board member Darren Caywood said.
Closing the school may be one cut in the budget reduction plan that board members are trying to finalize. Board member Rees McKee said they hope to act on the reductions during a 7 p.m. Thursday meeting at the high school library.
Financial projections show the school system will see a $3.6 million deficit by 2008.
To maintain enough cash to pay bills for 40 days, the board needs to cut $3.4 million before the new school year and get a 7.9-mill property tax levy passed by voters in March. If the levy fails, the board would need to cut $8.7 million.
The board already made $260,000 in cuts. Those cuts made at a meeting last Wednesday include eliminating driver’s education, field trips and high school computer science and take effect today.
At the meeting Monday night, board members were making changes to a budget reduction plan created by Superinten-dent Paul Blaine.
The board wants to save elementary art, music and physical education, the academy program for at-risk students and summer school programs from being cut. To compensate, an administrative pay freeze, changes in curriculum mapping that would save about $6,000, classroom cleaning and athletic support costs were moved up on the list of cuts.
Blaine told the crowd why extracurricular activities and the assistant superintendent position were not on the list of cuts.
“By proven example, other schools have cut sports and found that there is no significant savings or they find themselves even farther in the hole,” he said. “In Xenia, they cut out extracurriculars and enough students left the district that they lost more funding than they saved. This has happened at other schools.”
Blaine also said the school has always had an assistant superintendent, but the person may have worked under a different title. He said the money saved from cutting the position would be lost due to the lack of government grants, handled by the assistant superintendent. That position currently is filled by Todd Yohey of St. Marys.
Other future cuts listed on the plan include closing Noble Elementary School, eliminating busing for about 1,150 students, cutting all-day kindergarten, cutting home economics and industrial arts for junior high students and staff reductions. These cuts would take effect if the levy in March fails, which would raise about $1.8 million annually.
Teachers also may be asked to absorb some of the loss. Blaine said the only way freezes in teachers’ salaries could be possible is if teachers renegotiated their contracts.
“They would have to come to us,” board member Grady Shaner said.
Joann Liming, president of the St. Marys Teachers Association, was unavailable for comment this morning on whether teachers would be willing to take a pay freeze.
Another possibility for reducing the budget, suggested by McKee, was to drop the 40-day cash balance to 30 days.
“Forty is the minimum we can work with,” Treasurer Peg Grimm said. “That is an average, but sometimes we dip into that reserved fund more than at other times.”
Caywood said he feels the community needs to settle personal differences to get the levy passed in March.
“One thing that I hear from talking to some of you is that there are indeed some deep scars in this room,” Caywood said. “I know they will heal with time. We (the board) will aspire to lead by example. We need to bridge some gaps for things that have happened. The last levy is water under the bridge, if we let our own personal beliefs get in the way it is going to affect the kids in our district. It’s a sad day for me when someone walks down the street and can’t say ‘hi’ to me or look at me because I am in this position where I have to cut this or cut that.”


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