More Urbana school cuts identified

URBANA - Urbana school board members dug deeper Tuesday, identifying another $200,000 in budget cuts to push the total to the board's $2 million goal.

At a study session following a two-hour concert to review music programs at all district schools, board members unanimously endorsed the whole list of proposed reductions, a list they reviewed at several meetings and at Saturday study sessions with a view toward minimizing the impact on education.

Member Joyce Hudson did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

After the last Saturday session in February, board members could go no farther than the $1.8 million list they'd already approved. Tuesday, Superintendent Gene Amberg presented an additional $200,000 in cuts he recommended be added to the list, cuts that include:

- A $56,000 freeze this year on textbook expenditures.

- Additional cuts this year of 10 percent at the district level and 10 percent at each of the schools, cuts that will amount to about $2,500 at each elementary school. Those reductions will reduce the deficit this year by $94,000.

- Fee changes next school year that will increase the costs of student lunches from $1.35 to $1.50, textbook fees from $50 to $60 and athletic fees from $25 to $35, items expected to add about $20,000 net to the bottom line.

- Additional clerical reductions of $20,000 to special education programs.

- Additional service hour expense reductions of $10,200 to special education programs.

?We'd already addressed all areas of the school except two, athletics and special education,? said board Vice President John Dimit. ?I'm glad to see them on the list.?

Amberg said it looks like clerical staff reductions will be accomplished through attrition, and he said teaching staff layoffs the board must announce this month to comply with state requirements will be minimal, perhaps four to five teachers at the elementary level instead of the targeted seven.

He said he hopes attrition will also make it possible to rehire those laid off.

Members accepted each of Amberg's recommendations, bringing the total of cuts to $1.98 million.

?I'm ready to vote,? said member Mark Netter. ?The people of Urbana are ready. Waiting until next year would make this much, much worse.?

?Since $1.8 million of these cuts are continuous, I'm comfortable with the fact that $150,000 of them are for deficit reduction,? Dimit said.

?Regardless of personal feelings about how the cuts may affect them, I think we have to knuckle down for the kids,? Netter said. ?We're preserving programs.?

Dimit said there's a lot of misinformation in the community about exactly what programs will be affected.

?We're continuing every aspect of the music program,? said board President Tina Gunsalus, referring to the music review that preceded the meeting and to one common misunderstanding on the streets.

A key component of the painstakingly debated list of cuts identified earlier, a list that totaled $1.79 million, were teacher reductions that would save more than $700,000, reductions nearly evenly distributed among the elementary schools, Urbana Middle School and Urbana High School. Clerical staff reductions added $175,500 to the list and retirement savings added an additional $106,500.

Most of the rest of the 36 items on that list were much smaller actions like $40,000 saved on high school study hall supervision expenses and $22,100 saved on lunch room supervisor expenses.

The district has been crippled by tax caps limiting revenue, by an assessed valuation that's not keeping pace with expenses, by decreased and uncertain state funding, by low interest rates and by other factors wreaking financial havoc in more than 80 percent of the school districts in the state.

You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at acook@news-gazette.com.

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