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Slater school board keeps close tabs on budget as more state funding reductions loom

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Slater school board met for another budget workshop Monday, March 1 -- the third in the past four weeks -- keeping one close eye on the current budget and one wary eye on the grim budget prospects for next year.

The current budget had to be tweaked a bit to account for a 2 percent cut in state funding.

Superintendent John McEachern told board members he added $109,000 into the revenue side of the ledger to keep the balance on the positive side.

The additional funding was not new money but was from the difference between conservative early estimates and actual revenues expected, according to McEachern.

The board spent more time looking closely at the budget, looking at possibilities for belt-tightening. State education officials have warned superintendents that the grim state budget picture may get worse next year.

One victim of future budget cuts may be summer school.

McEachern noted that, as of this year, the state no longer requires districts to provide summer school, and at a recent meeting of area superintendents few were certain they could offer it.

The plan in Slater for now is to offer a scaled-down version of summer school. Gone will be the various enrichment activities that were included in recent years, McEachern said.

But the district still wants to help students who are behind in reading and other basic academic skills.

He said the district lost about $17,000 on summer school last year.

Teachers have already been informed that summer school will probably be pared down to a "skeletal" form.

"They have been really good about it," he said, noting that teachers have come to him with money-saving ideas. "They can see the picture and how we're trying to work it out."

The district is beginning to explore the possibility of offering online courses, which might be less costly and help compensate for budget cutbacks without losing as many summer classes.

McEachern also suggested a review of two programs hosted by the Marshall school district. Slater currently pays to send students to Saline County High School and Saline County Career Center.

The district has sent few students to SCHS in recent years, he said, and added that he was mulling whether to make attendance at SCCC a privilege open to students whose grades were acceptable at Slater High School.

The board also briefly discussed the tuition level Slater charges for out-of-district students, but McEachern said he is still waiting to hear back from a couple of area schools before he can complete a tuition comparison report.

Slater's tuition, at $3,750 per student, appears to be lower than most area schools, based on preliminary results.

McEachern told the board he will be participating in a meeting of superintendents who are going to provide information to a representative about the effect of the federal No Child Left Behind Act on rural school districts. The representative is expected to testify before a committee in Washington, D.C. on the issue.

Superintendents are concerned that government funding continues to shortchange rural districts, he said.

The board also discussed design options for the new Early Childhood Center with architect Robert Rollings.

Rollings told the board the current design might still fit in the $1.3 million project budget, but he was concerned there wasn't enough cushion in the event bids come in higher than expected.

After discussing a number of options for alternatives -- for example, reducing storage space, having slightly less square footage or eliminating the brick from the rear wall -- Rollings said he was satisfied the board had given him adequate direction to proceed. He said groundbreaking would probably still occur on schedule, expected to be early in June.

Board President Rick Hays and members Jodi Fuemmeler, Robbie Newman, Larry Skinner and Steven Taylor were present.

Contact Eric Crump at marshalleditor@socket.net

On the Net:
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Education cuts won't hit schools equally:

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The 26er

I disagree with you completely. Many people choose to live in a rural area specifically for the school. There is a family atmosphere and great teacher to student ratio-- and many of our rural schools reach accredidation where the bigger schools do not-- they are all held to the same rules and standards-- I choose to live in rural area and all my tax dollars go to support it-- we do not pay taxes for the other schools-- we choose to keep these open as they are the foundation of many of these rural communities -- where your neighbor my be 2 miles away-- these are important remnants of years past and I feel that our children are well prepared to meet the challenges provided in highschool and these schools foster deep roots in our dying rural communities that are diminishing greatly-- I want my kids to come back and keep our land in the family for years to come and these rural schools boost the relationships that form in our tiny rural districts.

There is a need and I am glad we still have them.

Our children have a "stable social base" as you call that it, which times, reaches a much greater distance than those of say, slater schools. Our children have friends in all the rural schools that cover every part of our great county-

And it is not solely the school districts responsiblity to prepare them for life in the real world-- some of that DOES fall on the parents.

Leave the rural districts as they are-- some of us go there as children-- go to highschool-- then college-- and then come back "home" to give our children the same GREAT experience that we had.

-- Posted by workingmom on Thu, Mar 4, 2010, at 4:39 PM

I keep wondering why we even still have the rural schools. Yes, they are out-of-district, but these "districts" do not have grade 9-12, so what choice do we have but to send our kids unless we do homeschooling. I ? what Slater's cost is for these students also, the numbers are not huge, so without them would there be a possibility that Slater would not need as many teachers for 9-12 grades? Slater does not provide transportation to and from school for these students, the sending district does.

Many continue to say the education quality is better in our rural schools. I challenge this. I would agree that some time ago this was true, but recently it does not appear to be. I do know my daughter, who received A's and B's in elementary in math has had to struggle with Algebra I. My son was an A student in elementary also, and in his first few weeks in Algebra I he kept telling me he quickly realized he had not been taught enough to prepare him for it.

I think the situation in some rural schools need to be evaluated. I would much rather at this time be considered to live in Slater School District, have my taxes go there instead of where they currently go, at least then I would also have some voting power regarding such things as the Slater School Board elections, and other school issues. At this point my children have to attend there, or some high school somewhere, and I have no real power as far as ensuring there is someone in charge of policy making that I feel would do the job appropriately.

I think the days of these small rural schools, especially in area as small as Slater, has passed. We need to consolidate these children into the school districts where by the time they get to high school they will have a stable social base with the kids they will attend the next, and very important, 4 years of their preparation for life in the adult world.

-- Posted by the26er on Thu, Mar 4, 2010, at 4:05 PM

Summer School should be there for kids who fall behind or who struggle to get the help they need. Why do we have to offer kids some sort of a bribe to attend? Most children I know don't go because they need the help to move forward in school. Most students go for the money they will be getting in the end. The money these children are getting for attending Summer School could be better put to use on the resources they need to thrive as students. Students don't realize it now but their parents do a great education is invaluable.

-- Posted by momtoall on Wed, Mar 3, 2010, at 4:23 PM

Hey Eric-- could you possibly follow up on this and question McEachern on this--

If the rural schools stop sending students there-- would he save money -- would his curriculum and expeditures be that much different because in my way of thinking-- I would think he would still have basically the same expenses but would not have the money that the rural schools do pay-- and do the rural students he does have allow him to receive state and federal funding-- so if he lost them would it effect his funding--

Just curious as to if it really is costing him to educate the rural students or if he is just saying that without really putting the numbers up-- Just wondering if this would be something you could follow up on as it effects a lot of rural schools

-- Posted by workingmom on Wed, Mar 3, 2010, at 2:27 PM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
The question did come up at the meeting. Board member Jodi Fuemmeler made the point you bring up. The board didn't weigh all the pros and cons, but I expect they will when Mr. McEachern has a more complete list of comparisons. I agree that this is a good topic for a more thorough story. School funding is complicated!

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