Is the financial condition of the Woodmore School District stable enough to reinstate some of the positions that were cut two years ago as part of an austerity move to offset a looming deficit?
The agenda for the school board’s Feb. 21 meeting will include discussion of four positions, including a curriculum/testing director, groundskeeper, tech integration specialist/teacher, and an elementary school teacher.
Corinna Bench, board president, said some of the positions, if approved, could be implemented on a part-time basis and there may be grant funding available to help pay for the elementary teaching post.
Hiring a tech integration specialist would help the district proceed with a goal of eventually providing Chromebook computers for students from sixth grade through high school on a one-to-one basis so the devices can be taken home. The specialist would also be involved in training teachers. Bench said there is also a need to replace the curriculum director position.
“There isn’t one person designated to do that now,” she said. “Someone is needed to oversee the district strategy from pre-K through 12 so it’s being constantly evaluated and improved, helping teachers with the student learning objectives.”
In 2015, the district cut about $300,000 in staff and programs, according to figures compiled by the administration.
Bench said there is still some concern among board members about the proposals and whether this is the time to allocate the funding. “We want to be responsible about stewarding the finances. At the same time, we recognize there is a real need to move out of the status quo,” she said. Board member Cara Brown said the board needs to adopt a long-term outlook when considering the positions.
“Our enrollment has been dropping through the years so we’re getting smaller kindergarten and first grade classes,” she said. “Is it more of a matter of moving positions around and being more efficient with what we currently have? These are things we have to consider. We’re looking at all avenues on how to make the most of our money. The worst thing that could happen is we could restore some of these positions and in two years can’t afford them.”
Preliminary figures from the state indicate the district may see a drop in funding in the next biennium budget, she said.
Sam Preston, a board member, said it’s asking a lot of a building administrator such as a principal, to also handle the responsibilities of a curriculum director.
“There are a lot of details and coordination with the staff and review of the materials as well as making sure the grade levels are integrated and there is vertical communication. All those things are very time consuming,” he said.
He called the tech integration specialist position a “sign of the times,” adding “many districts have one or two.” “We have contracted services to cover the hardware but not relay the software to the staff and what’s available and how to use it. That person would work carefully with the curriculum director,” he said.
Still, every member of the board is cognizant of the district needing three attempts just to renew an operating levy last year, Preston said.
“It would have been a crisis had it failed and we’re looking at every position. The question we have to ask ourselves is, Have we gone below the standard benchmark of services that should be offered to our children? If the answer is yes, then we’re going to have to put the positions in. Then after putting them in we’re going to have to manage our resources in a manner that keeps the public’s trust and maintains our fiscal integrity,” he said.
Memories of the district’s recent precarious financial picture still weigh heavily on board member Joe Liszak.
“I was the one who brought Woodmore’s finances to light a few years ago when we almost had to borrow money from the state to stay afloat. I’m not going to let us get in that situation again,” he said. “We just went through the worst fiscal period in our history. It’s time to provide a cushion for the lean times instead of producing spending plans.”
He said there hasn’t been an efficiency or saving plan brought to the board for review. If the board decides to vote on the positions Tuesday, he’s asked that the positions be voted on individually.
Board member Sean Rizor said it’s not the right time to increase spending on personnel.
“We need to put a little time between passing the renewal levy and adding positions. We have to prove to the community they passed a levy for us and we’re going to be responsible and show we can work with what we have,” he said. “Some of these positions are needed but it’s very bad timing at the moment. I’m confident we’ll get there.”