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01-23-04: St. Marys Moulton elementary closing


ST. MARYS — Moulton Elementary School will close at the end of the school year, board of education members decided during a Thursday night meeting.
The school closing is part of St. Marys’ budget reduction plan, which in-cludes $3.6 million in cuts to begin July 1. And if voters reject a 7.9-mill levy at the March ballot, board members are saying they’ll have to cut another $5.1 million.
The closing of Moulton will save the school an estimated $1.2 million. Other cuts approved by the board Thursday were five elementary aides, 1.5 library and teacher positions each, a part-time secretary and summer student workers. Classroom cleaning was reduced to every other day, and administrative staff took a pay freeze, saving $167,000.
Other cuts included an optional preferred provider organization health benefit program, eliminating the district newsletter, cutting turf maintenance at the football field and no longer providing transportation to West school for high school football practice.
The original budget reduction proposal included cutting all-day, every-day kindergarten, but board members decided to keep the program in place. They also decided not to eliminate the high school academy program, which helps at-risk students graduate, but did say the program may be cut if future reductions need to be made.
If the levy in March does not pass, estimated at bringing in $1.8 million annually, the school faces much harsher cuts.
Board members said they will downsize busing and close Noble Elementary School to save a total of $2.8 million.
Other proposed future cuts may be made in staffing, coaching and art, music, physical education, consumer science and industrial arts classes. Field trips would be eliminated, along with junior high intramural programs and the academy program.
St. Marys Education Association President JoAnn Liming commented at the meeting about residents asking the teachers to take a pay cut.
“We know these are difficult financial times,” Liming said. “It’s important that the community understand that it is the final year in a three-year contract. The contract negotiations were complex and not that easy. The teaching staff gave significant cuts in its health coverage. We started to help alleviate this debt when we negotiated this contract.”
Liming added a teacher’s pay raise was scheduled for September 15, not in April as had been commented at several other meetings. Liming encouraged members of the community to support the levy.
Resident Lisa Wilson asked if the board would close Noble school also in July. Board members said the elimination of both Moulton and Noble could cause space problems.
“I’m wondering if you are not making the cuts seem severe enough,” teacher Janis Dickerson said at the meeting. “I’m wondering if the community will take us seriously. I don’t see any community members here, only staff.”
About 80 were at the meeting.
“We’ve probably done too good of a job making things work and not a good enough job explaining the educational sacrifices we are making,” Superintendent Paul Blaine responded. “People have to understand the problems we are facing are not a spending problem. It is a funding problem.”
Due to cuts in state funding and increased costs, board members are projecting an $8.7 million deficit by 2008 if the March levy does not pass.
Tammy Smith, a resident who moved to St. Marys recently, said she was devastated when the first attempt at getting a new levy failed in November.
“I moved here and bought a home here because I believed in this town,” Smith said. “I invested in this town and it was a huge letdown. My kids are the ones who are going to suffer from this. I’ve never been in a town where the people don’t support the schools. If people get behind football, they better get behind their kids. If it takes cutting sports as a threat, so be it.”
“We don’t want to yield that club,” board member Rees McKee responded. “We still have to maintain the possible education we can with the funds that are available.”


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