URBANA – Sharply divided school board members added one teacher's job to their list of potential cuts Tuesday, and at least one more job is on the line.
Board President Joyce Hudson didn't attend the meeting because she was sick, but she watched the action on cable television, phoned staff members to communicate her opinions on issues, and when the vote on teachers' jobs and several other issues stalled at 3-3, Hudson came in to tip the balance in favor of those cuts.
Tuesday's vote was informal, and the board will vote later this month on a final list of cuts.
The goal Tuesday, continuing discussions from a meeting Saturday afternoon, was to agree on $500,000 in cuts and to find an additional $250,000 to trim. Depending on the outcome of teachers' contract negotiations, the board might have to cut $1 million from a budget that's already taken a $2 million hit.
Revenue "enhancements" are also part of the package. Board members agreed to raise registration fees to $100 for all students and to raise driver's education charges to $200. They're still debating what to do to save money on athletic fees, waiting for information about how may low-income students might be eliminated from participation in sports if fees are raised.
And they systematically trimmed supply and operations budgets for a number of programs. John Dimit, who served as chairman in Hudson's absence, said he's worried about that action.
"I'm concerned that if we nibble here and nibble there, we'll have programs that are starved," he said. "I think we should limit what we're doing in the schools and do it well."
Dimit said he's prepared to support the elimination of two elementary teachers' jobs for one basic reason.
"Enrollment has dropped 50 kids in K-5," he said. "Because we lost those kids, I'm very comfortable with that action."
"We didn't reduce staff when enrollment dropped by hundreds of kids," added Mark Netter. "We need to work hard to keep staff in line with enrollment."
But Cope Cumpston disagreed.
"We're losing ground on achievement and discipline," Cumpston said. "I'm going to talk about raising discretionary fees higher before I talk about losing elementary teachers."
"We won't get to the amount we're trying to get to without teaching cuts," said Steve Summers.
Board members were also sharply divided about a proposal to not replace a retiring librarian and to have one librarian cover the two smallest elementary schools. They're now considering another option, eliminating aides and materials but retaining full-time librarians at each school.
They also argued about cutting a lunchroom supervisor's job, but that stayed on the list.
But they refused to eliminate a proposed third-grade swimming program at the new aquatic center the district shares with the Urbana Park District.
"We made a pact that the pool would be used by all students in the district," Dimit said.
"Every cut from here out is going to be a teacher, a psychologist, a social worker," said Netter of the compromises that brought the total so far to $513,000. Board members agreed to move to the $750,000 level at their next meeting after a 5:30 p.m. hearing Tuesday to approve the driver's education fee increase.
Teachers and staff members crowded the meeting, and two Urbana Middle School sixth-graders made a difference in the outcome for their peer mediation program, which was to be cut along with other programs in the district.
"How could you even think about cutting our program?" said Chelsea Lewis, who came with classmate Kristina Karrick to display a poster and letters from other students who participate in the program.
"We're trying to stop problems," Chelsea said. "There are too many problems in the world. We're trying to save other kids."
Board members thought about that for a while.
"You've heard all the things we're talking about cutting," Summers said to Kristina, who stayed to hear the discussions after she and Chelsea made their presentation. "It's a matter of limited money and making hard decisions."
They consulted with middle school Principal Nancy Clinton about the program at her school, and Clinton said that it does a lot of good there for a minor cost.
"Middle school is when you can influence kids," Clinton said. "We get a lot for the $8,000 spent on the program."
Board members took that cut off their list.
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.