Morrison School Board Struggles With Proposed Budget Cuts
Bt LYNNETTE FORTH | For The Prairie Advocate News
MORRISON – Budget cuts were the topic of the Morrison School Board meeting on March 19th. Morrison is just one of many area schools faced with making difficult decisions in the hopes of reducing a large deficit, largely due to the lack of State funding. Board members struggled with acting on the proposed cuts, just as the West Carroll School District did earlier in the week.
Following the approval of previously held meeting minutes (Regular meeting of February 26, Citizens Advisory Committee of February 25, and Finance committee of February 26), board members heard the annual update of highlights from Morrison Junior High art teacher Nick Bonneur, and Principal Darryl Hogue.
Bonneur explained the use of the STEM program, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Junior High students have been using an architectural design program. Two students were present at the meeting to provide demonstrations.
Bonneur stated, “The kids are 100% engaged. They learn to deal with complex problems.” Doug Pannier asked Bonneur if he thought that the Morrison students are further ahead than other students in the area. Bonneur replied “Yes, we are ahead of other schools because of computer technology.”
Board member Doug Pannier reported on the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting reporting that the group reviewed the comprehensive math proposal presented by Scott Vance.
“It makes a lot of sense,” Pannier stated. The committee also discussed the proposed budget reductions, with Pannier commenting, “I hate to see this happen. It’s just where we are right now.”
Pannier also reviewed the Finance committee meeting with the board, reporting “The deficit started at $758,000.00, and is down to about $548,000.00. A lot of work has gone into this. We never want to see this. We have minimized the loss of staff, retirements have helped. It is frustrating when the State doesn’t live up to its expectations. Everyone has worked together.”
Jim Riddley responded, “Class sizes are not out of control. Some have increased, but they are still manageable. It’s pretty important not to have excessive class sizes. It’s getting to the point that we are going to have to make other decisions down the road. Every School District is in the same boat.”
Brandon Shelton reported on the facilities committee meeting, informing board members of some issues that will need to be addressed in the future, or have been corrected. Shelton stated that the committee is looking to increase the amount of parking on the East side by the playground at Northside. Southside has faced a few thermostat issues, and air conditioning problems in the office, but are working well now.
The Junior High heating system has had some challenges, with the timer for the weekend not working. At the High School, some components of the boiler need to be replaced, with work to be done this summer. The exhaust fan in the auditorium is not working well, and the roof over the pool is getting bad.
Summer projects include: work on High School boiler, High School computer lab lighting, and countertop replacement in the bathrooms at Southside. Superintendent Suellen Girard suggested a Community Work Day before the start of the school year, with volunteers from the area helping to complete some of the projects.
In the Superintendents report, Girard stated, “We just continue to work forward. Continue working on the common core standards. We have met the threshold for students and teachers, but need more parents to respond to the 5 essentials survey on the website.
“My concern is that the Governor mentioned an 82% reduction in General State Aide. Budget issues are nothing to do with mismanagement of funds. Our daily attendance continues to drop. We are encouraging parents to please send your students. Funding is based on how many are in school every day. Better attendance equals better revenue.”
Principal Scott Vance reported that course requests for the 2013-2014 school years have been completed, and work continues on the Common Core State Standards. In an effort to better prepare students for the PSAE exam, Morrison High School is looking at the possibility of restricting its basic algebra course. The scholastic team recently won the Morrison Regional. Weather has delayed the beginning of spring athletic events with baseball and softball games being cancelled last week.
Junior High Principal Darryl Hogue reported that Nick Bonneur and the other art teachers in the District will be attending a one day Common Core workshop focused on Common Core practices into the art curriculum. Wrestling wrapped up on March 9th, with eight wrestlers making it to the IESA State tournament.
“This is our largest number of qualifiers. The team finished 21st out of 80 plus teams. Joe Eads and Gus Linke placed in the top 5 for their weight classes,” Pannier stated.
The Art Department received the funding to pay for their workshop though a CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) donation. CAPA donated $780.00 to cover the cost of the registration.
Elementary Principal Joe Robbins informed the board that ISAT testing has been completed, and Kindergarten screenings have begun for next year. Approximately 82 students in the District are eligible. Mrs. Perrizo gave her final elementary performance at the fourth grade American Folktale program.
“‘Because Children are Special’ will hold an open forum parent night at Southside on March 18th from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.,” Robbins stated. The group is looking at providing funding for some special training.
During the public forum, music instructors David Bean and Kathy Janiceck addressed the board in regards to the proposed cuts to the music department. Bean stated, “I appreciate the careful concerns the district has done.”
Janicek added, “Children benefit from band and music programs. The music department has lost six tenths of a position already this year. You seriously need to consider a partial position. A new teacher coming in can’t do it all. People coming into Morrison want to be here because of our musical program. If the music program gets cut to two people, the program is going to suffer. Half of a position is a really big deal.”
- Budget Reduction Recommendations: Certified Staff and Program Changes equaling $528,625 in reductions. Reduce one section of Kindergarten, reduce one section of First Grade, reduce one section of Sixth Grade, reduce one section of Seventh Grade, reduce High School Home Economics by half, add one section of Fourth Grade, reduce Music by 1/3 position (board members did not vote on this issue), replace one music class each week with one technology class at grades 3-5. It may also be necessary to have the Madrigal class during the day, and reduce music to once a week at the Kindergarten level, reduce HS English by 1/3, eliminate a ½ time special education teacher position, eliminate French 4, and reduce JH and HS P.E. teachers by 1 teacher. A qualified aid will provide additional support for the PE teacher during class hours with larger attendance. Music competition expenses not required by band or chorus will not be covered by the school district any longer.
- Classified Support Staff for a savings of $168,550: Reduce summer custodial help from 6 to 1 and a half, eliminate the Thome bus driver position and have current staff drive the bus within job assignments, pay all noon supervisors using the same salary schedule, eliminate 2 aide positions (one is retiring and another has indicated that they will not be returning), reduce 13 aide and secretarial positions to 29 hours per week (seniority and job requirements mean that bumping will occur), reduce technology support by ½ position (this individual will remain full time, but work park time ½ time for Prophetstown), and reduce foodservice hours and Central office secretarial hours.
Kathleen Vegter responded to the proposed cuts by asking, “Do we need to decide tonight?”
Girard answered, “We are not reducing people tonight, just getting the structure in place. There will be further action on personnel reduction in April. We need to let people know what they are going to be doing so they know where to go.”
Mike Vegter asked, “If we go ahead with these reductions and they don’t work, can we change things over the course of one board meeting?”
Girard replied, “We can add more staff before school starts if we see a need.”
Jim Riddley suggested waiting on the reduction for music until schedules are done.
Other items discussed included:
- High School Math Remediation Course: The plan would be to require students who are not ready for regular algebra to take an additional credit of math. Students would then have math every day and earn two math credits for the year.
- Northwest Region School Board meeting on March 21st at Prophetstown
- Sterling withdrawal from Bi-County (action to be taken at April meeting)
- Classified Staff Handbook (revised every year).
- Action Items: (approved). The Board also approved Financial Literacy Curriculum at no cost to District; Shared Technology Support position with Prophetstown; Budget reductions for 2013-2014 year; Retirement of Pam Bush; Lease agreement with Bi-County Special Education ($21,250); Graduation dates (High School 5-26, Junior High 5-28); and the 2013-14 IHSA membership renewal (no cost to District).
Other Business: Jim Prombo reported that an Entrepreneur Program was all paid for by donors with 33 students applying. “It’s a nice program,” Prombo advised. “Twenty students are allowed into the program in the first year.”
The meeting adjourned at 8:45, with the next meeting scheduled for April 23rd. The public is encouraged to attend.