Proposed budget discussion brings public to BBPS school board work session

Staff Writer

Over 150 people, nearly half standing in the crowded Broken Bow High School Library, listened to the Broken Bow School Board discuss the proposed budget for the 2016-2017 school year. The meeting was a work session for discussion only. The board will vote on the budget at the next board meeting, Wednesday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. Several of the people in the audience spoke against proposed budget cuts with applause sounding after each one.

In presenting the proposed budget, Superintendent Tom Bailey emphasized that he and the other administrators tasked with cutting $500,000 from the budget are following the directive of the school board. “This was not easy,” Bailey said. “This was not something any of us wanted to do. This was the directive.”

In coming up with the budget, Bailey said they had three goals: minimize the impact on the classroom, maintain program offerings, and look across all departments.

The proposal will cut $473,709 from the budget. “We need to squeeze the other money out of the budget to get the full $500,000,” Bailey said.

If the new budget is adopted as proposed, it means the loss of two certified teaching positions, a vocal teacher and a language arts teacher, one secretary position, five para educators, one custodian and one tech para. There will be a reduction of events. There would be no increase in elementary class size and offerings of programs such as music and ag would be maintained.

The proposed cuts, Bailey said later in the meeting, were not presented in any order of preference or priority with savings listed in parenthesis include:
1. No raises for administrators or classified staff
2. Restructure the Eakes Copiers contract ($13,746)
3. Restructure District Office secretary and one custodian position ($51,719)
4. Reduce the extracurricular budget ($35,077)
5. Eliminate summer school ($17,000)
6. Eliminate 5 classified para positions ($66,437)
7. Do not assign School Improvement Chairperson funding ($3,600)
8. Hire a speech pathologist and cancel contract position with ESU 10 ($30,000)
9. Reassign vocal offerings rather than replace the vocal teacher ($82,375)
10. Savings from high school Social Studies position ($22,693)
11. Do not replace high school Language Arts position ($60,946)
12. Savings from Koepke retirement to new hire ($43,220)
13. Eliminate one tech para position ($46,896)

Upon discussing #2, Bailey said “I personally could not ask other departments to cut if I first didn’t look at the district office.” He said the secretary position would be eliminated by retirement of Mrs. Horn though Horn spoke from the audience saying she wasn’t retiring. Bailey said he must have been given misinformation.

The reduction of $35,077.73 in extra curricular activity includes
1. Eight percent cut in activity department transfer funds from General
2. Cancellation of 22 bus activity trips
3. Cancellation of 20 van activity trips
4. Suspend 3D Coaching/Sponsor Certification Program/Speaker
5. Eliminate two Junior High School track coaches
6. Eliminate one High School golf coach
7. Eliminate one Junior High football coach
8. Eliminate one Character in Action Sponsor
9. Eliminate Assistant Concession Coordinator
10. Eliminate the Fall and Spring Weight After School Weights Programs
11. Substitute teacher/cover savings

“This takes a little bit from everything and doesn’t devastate one single program,” Baily said of the extracurricular cuts.

When a time for comments from the public was offered, Keegan Clark, a senior at BBPS, spoke eloquently against severe budget cuts, including quotes on education from notable figures such as Winston Churchhill and Nelson Mandela. “It seems to me the desire to lower taxes has taken over the desire for education,” Clark said. In closing, he added “Do not fail our community.” A loud round of applause came at the end of his comments.

Sheila Clark, Keegan’s mother, spoke, she said “as a concerned mother.” She spoke of the special services Keegan, an honor roll student who has worked through challenges, benefited from while at Broken Bow Schools. She cited the cross county coach including Keegan in cross county activities “out of the goodness of his heart” as an example of a teacher going the extra mile for a student. Clark said Keegan has received an “amazing education” and “he wants to be a teacher.” Applause also followed her comments.

Diane Kargas spoke in support of keeping the vocal program fully staffed. “If we let the music program fall, it will take years to build it back up. It’s very important you look to the future,” she said. “The decisions you make will encourage families to stay or move away,” she added. For those who look to Gothenburg as a comparison in cost, she said “They have their entire K-12 under one roof. Their new facilities don’t have energy issues like our older buildings.” In closing, she asked the board to “Consider the future, not only the current crisis.” For the third time, applause sounded at the end of comments.

A parent of three, Kaci Johnson, talked of moving her family to Broken Bow in 2015. “We transferred to Broken Bow for what we could achieve here,” she said, citing a wider choice of classes. “Cuts are not good advertising. Cut responsibly. Cut where necessary. Please don’t make decisions solely on money.” Her comments, too, were met with applause.

Deb McCaslin, executive director of Custer Economic Development Corporation, spoke about her own personal experience as well as that from a economic developer. She said her family had multiple choices years ago when deciding where to move.“The number one reason we came to Broken Bow was the school system,” McCaslin said She said the board should absolutely guard the pocket book but “guard the school, too.” As economic developer, she’s received many emails and phone calls asking “What’s going on in Broken Bow?” While she realizes it’s a tough decision and a tough conversation, the proposed cuts, she said “scares the socks off me. The number one economic driver is schools. Please take that into consideration.” Her comments, too, were applauded.

School board member Pam Holcomb spoke openly against the proposed cuts. “Do we want kids to leave with an average education or leave with a quality one?” she asked. “Every one of us should be advocating for the kids.” She indicated the listing the proposed budget cuts and said “I don’t like this at all.”

Proposed cuts Holcomb objected most strongly to were the elimination of summer school and the elimination of the vocal teaching position.

Bailey explained it would mean the reduction of High School music sections from four to two and junior high music sections from three to two. There would be no 6th grade music. Rusty Kluender said it was necessary “with what we’ve been asked to do.”

Multi-tiered system of support classes (MTSS) would be reduced by the budget cuts. “Your reader supports would go away,” Kluender said.

Carl French, board president, said he looks at the budget proposal as a “work in progress” and working on it at this time “gives us the opportunity to discuss and work on this.”

Though the budget isn’t due until September, Bailey cautioned the longer it takes to approve the budget, the more difficult it is to hire, if necessary. “We need to know what you guys want,” he said. He suggested that the board make a decision this month, otherwise it would be too late to hire for the fall semester.

Holcomb asked if a four day school week had been considered as an option. Bailey said he has seen many smaller schools, mainly in the western part of the U.S., convert to a four day school week and it can result in savings of up to $200,000. Such a decision would have to be put before the public.

Board member Mary Shaw said the proposed cut that raised a red flag for her was the elimination of the para positions. “If you don’t have the help, the teachers lose the classroom. The paras are very much needed.”

Holcomb said “It’s hard to look at education as an expense. We need to look at it an investment” to which a loud round of applause responded.

Kim Jonas, elementary school principal said there was only one proposed cut on the list that made everyone happy and that was the re-structuring of the copier contact. Other than that, “Not one of these is easy. I can make an argument for every one of them to keep. We’ve spent hours and hours and many sleepless nights on what you (the board) asked us for.”

There was some discussion as to the official enrollment of the 2016-17 school year with the conclusion that it would be 861, 40 more students than the previous year.

In cutting the extra curricular activities, Ryan Hogue said the most affected were junior high and mid-level. Varsity was least affected, he explained, because conference events have to be played and varsity football is scheduled by the state.

French asked what the cost per pupil would be with the proposed cuts. “I need to get my head around that,” he said. The cost per student wasn't available at the meeting.

Holcomb made another statement which was greeted by another round of applause when she said “Anytime you’re not moving forward, if you’re standing still, it’s not too long before you go backwards.”

As discussion of the proposed cuts wrapped up, Baily reminded the board and public that it’s fluid. “Things change,” he said. “This was not easy. It’s not what any one of us wanted to do but this was the directive,” he said of the proposed budget. He told the board it was hoped they could make a decision “so we don’t have to eat the elephant in the room in one bite.” Another option, he suggested, would be to make some decisions this year and others next year.

The board moved on to other items on the agenda with plans to vote on all or parts of the proposed budget at the next board meeting Wednesday, April 12 at 7:30. The meeting, normally held on a Monday, has been moved to Wednesday due to conflicts in some board members schedules. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.