The Northwood school board will hold a meeting on June 17 at 6 p.m. in city council chambers to discuss the district’s five year forecast.
The district, which has an $11 million budget, is faced with budget cuts, layoffs, and a possible operating levy this year to ward off a deficit, according to Superintendent Greg Clark.
“Our five year forecast shows that we are going to have to make some changes in the way we do business here, most probably,” said Clark. “There may be some combination of cuts and asking for additional money or a whole lot of cuts and asking for a lot of money. Which direction our board goes with those options is still to be determined.”
Clark said the board wants public input on the options they will be considering to improve its financial outlook.
“We want to invite the community in to hear a presentation regarding what the five year forecast is looking like, and talk about a few of the items we may be looking at, which could include the closure of a school, and listen intently to what the people have to say about what they would like to see. We would like to have good participation.”
The district is expected to have a $300,000 budget deficit at the end of this school year, said Clark.
“We’re recognizing that we can’t continue to expend money that’s not coming in,” he said.
So far, costs have been managed through the attrition of personnel, said Clark.
“When the school district’s budget is over 80 percent personnel, you can’t get very much into your budget without finding ways to spend less on the people who work there,” said Clark. “We have not had to lay people off, like a lot of districts around here have had to do. Fortunately for us, we’ve had some key retirements over the last couple of years that we’ve been able to absorb, and reassign teachers. We’re continuing to offer what we consider to be very good or excellent opportunities for kids, but also trying to keep the budget in mind by not just replacing everyone who retires.”
He said it will be difficult to ask voters to pass an operating levy during a deep recession, as people struggle with their own finances.
“It’s pretty easy for us to see when our free and reduced lunch applications just keep pouring in,” he said of the federally subsidized lunch program. “We have a good number of people in our area and region who are dealing with very tough times right now.”
Voters passed a 7.9-mill continuing operating levy in the spring of 2008, and a continuing permanent improvement levy in 2009.
There was discussion years ago about closing a school building, specifically Lark School on the west side of the city.
“The conversation about that building has been ongoing for many, many years. Certainly, that building is something we have to seriously consider,” he said.
“Closing a school saves money,” he added. “But politically, neighborhoods like to have school buildings in their neighborhoods. It’s divisive to close a building, even when, from a budgetary standpoint, that’s what needs to be done.”
Lark School would likely be closed if the board decided to close a building, he said, because it is the smallest in the district.
“It has the fewest number of classrooms. If we were to get all of our kids into three buildings, we’re going to need the bigger three buildings,” he said.
In addition, Lark is operating with its original boiler and heating system that’s over 50 years old, he said.
“Olney Elementary was upgraded 10 years ago. So looking at which one of the buildings is in the best condition from an infrastructure standpoint, Olney is in better shape,” he said. “When we’re talking about reducing buildings from four to three, it doesn’t take very long for anyone to take a look at the situation and say Lark is the one that’s under the gun.”
Lark serves the whole district, with pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade classes, while Olney serves second, third and fourth grades. The middle school includes fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades, while the high school serves grades nine to 12.
“If we’re going to even look at getting all our kids on one campus, we’re going to have to put more kids in the high school. It would no longer be a ninth to 12th grade building, it would be eighth grade to 12th, seventh grade to 12th, or something like that,” he said.
He hopes there will be a good public turnout for the school board meeting.
“It’s important that we let people know where things stand, and what we are thinking about,” he said.