By Pat Maurer
The mood was much lighter in Farwell Monday night at the special meeting of the Board of Education after trustees indicated they will consider a budget for the coming year that reinstates the Chinese Immersion Program, which would be starting its fourth year in the district.
The second monthly meeting June 16 had brought a full-house to the meeting protesting the elimination of the program, even with seven of the program’s students on hand to plead their cause.
After hearing nine avid supporters of the Chinese Immersion program at Farwell Elementary, the Farwell Board of Education said June 16 that they might consider reinstating the program and set another special meeting for Monday, June 23rd just a week before the budget has to be adopted for the coming year.
Many parents and supporters of the Chinese Immersion Program were on hand again last Monday to support the language program and once again it was a full house at the meeting.
The June 2 cuts were made to reduce the district’s expected deficit budget for the coming year. The program was part of $584,300 pared from the coming year’s budget. That cut alone totaled $214,000.
At the June 2nd meeting, Business Manager Sullivan noted that the district was ending the 2013-14 year with the
district using $592,418 of the available fund balance and leaving only a $473,912 fund balance to begin the coming year.
Based on the board’s approval of cuts at the June 2nd meeting, Sullivan also presented a tentative budget for the 2014-2015 year with a total of $12,256,980 in revenue and $12,433,190 in expenditures. That budget would require using $176,209 of the fund balance. He also estimated a State Foundation allowance of $7,251 per pupil for the coming year.
Monday night Jennifer Smith presented the board with a list of the pledges that have been made to help support the program. As of Monday the list totaled $17,216 she said.
Larry Ashley also spoke at the meeting saying, “I support the Chinese program, but I don’t want any other programs to be sacrificed to support it. The bottom line here is financial. I hope it [the program] goes, but I don’t want it to our programming as a whole.”
Curt Thornmeier made an attempt to ask Superintendent Carl Seiter about the financial issues, but was told by Board President Rose Sharp that he could only address the board. He then asked the board, “Why do we have an assistant middle school principal? No one in the Jack Pine [area] has that. We don’t have the money for luxuries now.” He also charged board member Paula Sullivan with a conflict of interest because she had voted on the cuts, and her husband Jacob Sullivan is the district’s business manager. A list of potential cuts presented to the board earlier had included elimination of the business manager with Superintendent Seiter taking over those duties.
Board member Duffy Doxtader said, “It [that potential cut] was not on the list [of cuts] that night. If it had been on there you can be sure I would have brought it up.”
Speaking to Paula, Thornmeier said, “If it was not a conflict, why did you leave the room?”
Sullivan replied, “I left because you had attacked me and I didn’t want to cry in front of you and everyone here. I needed to step away for a moment.” Thornmeier said he hadn’t attacked her personally.
Carrie Carncross addressed the board next saying, “I just want to thank the board (for their work on this) and apologize for [anyone’s] behavior. We are all here for the good of the students – parents and board members.”
After audience members spoke, Superintendent Seiter said that Jacob Sullivan had “worked up three scenarios this afternoon.”
One would add back four Chinese teachers; the second would add back five Chinese teachers. He said, “I am directed to balance the budget. It is a not a balanced budget and that is causing concern.” He continued, “But with what has been happening in the past month, I feel this issue is tearing the district apart. It is feasible to add back Chinese teachers [for the coming year] and allow this group to work diligently with their fundraising efforts. It is doable and it won’t be drastically different than what was voted on June 2.”
Doxtader questioned, “And there are no further cuts?”
Seiter said, “Using the scenario that adds back five Chinese teachers, the budget would be $27,000 worse than what was adopted June 2. Barring an enrollment problem, we can make it one more year. We will end up with a $270,442 fund balance with that scenario.”
He cautioned, “Costs typically increase. A year from now we could be facing another $200,000 to $300,000 [in cuts] if
the enrollment stays stable.”
He recommended adding back five Chinese teachers. “I just can’t put 30 plus students in a classroom. As a district, we can’t put students in that situation.” By adding five Chinese teachers classroom size would remain at 23 students or below in the Elementary School.
He said the “Best Practices” money is included in the coming year’s budget. “It would be very difficult, but with some work and cooperation that could be done.” Meeting the State’s Best Practices list would add back $69,200 he said. Decreases in retirement and insurance savings could add $62,500. “We would also be reducing the board expenses to a bare minimum which would save $40,000 and the $15,000 in pledges I knew about is included in the budget.”
He said, “Next year there will be some difficult decisions.”
Paula Sullivan said, “I agree there are benefits of the program. The number one reason [to keep it] is to bring people into Farwell. I am not seeing that. It crushes me to see just the Chinese program because there is a lot more to this district.”
The board was also told that two grants to help fund the program have been sent in. “It’s very difficult to get grant funds for an ongoing program,” Paula Sullivan said.
Joy Grundy presented the board with a copy of the pledge form. She said, “I understand that this [fundraising for the program] will be an ongoing thing.”
Gross said, “If we vote for the reinstatement of the program, we are challenging parents to use the time (this coming year) to work towards [funding] for next year.” He added, “I don’t think people realize we are strapped. There’s no money.”
Rose Sharp commended the audience saying, “The best way to be involved is to come to the meetings. We are all supposed to be in this together – a team. We’ve been ripping ourselves apart and it’s not right.”
She continued, “I hope students are coming in not just for one program, but because we are a wonderful district.”
Doxtader said, “Next week we adopt a budget. I would like it to be the five Chinese teachers budget.
The budget figures presented by Jacob Sullivan by keeping five Chinese teachers totaled expenditures at $12,433,190 and would take $$176,209 from the fund balance leaving a $297,703 fund balance for next year.
It is based on enrollment of 1,384 students; and reductions of:
*the stipend for attending board meetings,
*a $10,000 reduction each in transportation, athletic and playground aides,
*a $4,000 reduction in maintenance/grounds,
*an increase in the charge for events at the school buildings,
*cutting $1,000 from Timberland supplies,
*cutting the board secretary to $14,000,
*cutting the high school Choice Room,
*replacing one Elementary teacher who retired, and absorbing on position by splitting the Chinese teacher,
*keeping five Chinese teachers,
*adding the $15,000 donation pledges for the Chinese program,
*cut the Board of Education functions by $40,000, including legal fees, negotiating fees, audit fees, board travel and advertising.
*adding Best Practices, a total of $69,200.
Three board members; Duffy Doxtader, John Gross and Terry Ellenwood said they would support the budget scenario that adds five Chinese teachers back into the budget. Irene Hanner said she would tentatively support that scenario, while Shari Buccilli, Rose Sharp and Paula Sullivan all said they don’t know.
The board will adopt a new budget next Monday.