Thursday, March 23, 2017 - Updated: 9:19 AMAfter two recent special meetings called by the Massac Unit One School District, it’s like a tale of two boards.
The first meeting convened on March 7 at 6:30 p.m. and wasn’t over until close to 8 p.m. It was very detailed and in-depth and had many people speaking out about the proposed $1.7 million in cuts in various areas.
The second meeting on March 16, was called to order at 6 p.m. and over by 6:16 p.m. The details were very vague about how $750,000 — much less than the $1.7 million before — would be cut, and there was no staff or public who spoke out after Board Chairman Donnie Koch spoke.
The first meeting held March 7 was an in-depth look at what $1,827,800 in cuts could mean to the school district. Last year the board asked current Unit One Superintendent Dennis Smith to see what $1.5 million in cuts would look like, and Smith gave the board the plan back in November. But the board’s first public discussion of the plan came at the March 7 meeting. The plan and the future of Unit One looked very bleak.
As many people asked during that meeting, why did it take so long for the board to bring the proposed cuts out into the open to address them?
In the 2016-17 school year the board financed the second addition to Metropolis Elementary School, in the amount of $1.2 million and a new roof for Massac Junior High School in the amount of $400,000 through money in the district’s saving’s account in the education fund, rather than selling bonds to finance the projects.
The board may have been advised to take that action because selling a bond could have ended up costing the board more money over time. Selling a bond could have meant property tax owners would possibly have had to pay more in property taxes, but the board dipped into savings instead.
The cuts first announced included the elimination of art and music completely at that elementary level and could mean the elimination of 19 district aides.
However, the board had scheduled a meeting for Monday, March 20, but rather suddenly on March 14, the decision was made to cancel the meeting for March 20 and hold a special meeting on March 16 to announce that no teaching staff would be laid off for the 2017-18 school year.
After Koch opened the meeting, he said again the Pre-K program would likely not be held next school year. A grant is being applied for, but the district does not know at this point if it will receive the grant. If the grant is not received, then there would be no Pre-K.
Koch thanked the board for taking time to talk and visit with the staff. He thanked the principals and the members of Massac County Education Association, all of whom worked on another option to save around $750,000 for the 2017-18 school year. “That’s a good start,” said Koch.
He said Athletic Director Parker Windhorst is looking at ways to reduce costs in the athletic department; Consi Kubitz is looking at ways to reduce costs and save money in the area of special education; the food service director and cooks are looking at ways to trim expenses in the dietary department; the district is evaluating the custodial department and specifically looking at eliminating some maintenance contracts and doing more things “in-house.” Koch also alluded to the fact there may be some areas to save money in the area of transportation, by eliminating a bus route or two.
There has got to be some give and take in this situation, and it appears maybe that is happening. But, from Koch’s comments at the meeting, it was hard to fully understand what kind of cuts would be in store for Massac Unit One next year because there were no specifics given — just broad categories where cuts are going to be made.
According to Koch, the district will have to justify all the dollars it spends and “We’re all going to have to understand needs versus wants,” said Koch, adding, “We can’t spend more than we’re taking in.”
“We all need to work together. I know we can accomplish this because we have great people working with Massac Unit One,” said Koch.
The bottom line from the meeting is that no teaching staff would have to be laid off and that is a very good thing for all of the employees and the students in the district.
But with very few details given, and no one speaking out, during the second meeting, it seemed like the topic of cuts was all very Kumbaya. That’s also a good thing for everyone involved. Let’s just hope it stays that way.