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District seeks input on $1 million cuts

Urbana could close school building, cut teaching positions.

Urbana school staff are gathering input from community members as the district prepares to slash $1 million from the budget, including proposals that could mean closing a school building and cutting teachers.

The district’s school board will factor that input into its final decision, which will likely be made later this spring, said Charles Thiel, superintendent.

Among the proposed cuts, the district is considering four options, which could include closing Local Intermediate or South Elementary schools. Two other proposals would keep Local Intermediate open, but would use it only to provide classroom space for pre-kindergarten students.

The district faces $1 million in budget cuts by the end of this year.

Closing a building would save the district money in utilities and other maintenance, but each plan also has drawbacks. For example, closing Local Intermediate could save the district as much as $250,000 a year. But it would also mean all other buildings would be filled to capacity, and two modular buildings would have to be moved to South Elementary at a cost of about $80,000. One option would keep both schools open and would provide more classroom space, but it would also split pre-kindergarten classes between two buildings and require adding two modular classrooms to South Elementary.

Along with changes to its facilities, the district is also considering:

• Cutting $80,000 from its transportation budget by reducing routes and implementing a student activity transportation fee

• Slashing $74,564 from athletics by cutting weight room supervision, eliminating freshman sports teams and implementing an annual $100 transportation fee per student for junior high and high school sports

•Cutting $93,393 from administration by eliminating a principal position at Local Intermediate and reducing gifted supervision

• Saving $126,535 by eliminating supplemental contracts for some positions, such as department chair

• Saving $50,580 through attrition by not filling a vacancy left open after a high school science teacher retires at the end of the year.

Even with those cuts and more, Thiel said the district still must cut an additional $296,000 that will likely mean five to seven teaching positions will be cut.

“Unfortunately, that’s where we will lose some staff members,” Thiel said. “I just don’t see any way around that process.”

The cuts became necessary after voters rejected a proposed 5.5-mill levy that would have raised about $1.3 million annually for the district.

This spring, voters will decide on a 9.75-mill renewal levy that was originally approved in 2008. That levy costs about $26 a month for the owner of a $100,000 home and is used for day-to-day operations such as utilities, salaries and transportation. If voters reject that levy, Thiel said the district could face an additional $2.4 million in cuts, on top of the $1 million that must be slashed this year.

“It will be devastating to the district,” Thiel said.

Jamie Lattimer, a parent who attended an informational session earlier this week, said she has mixed thoughts about the cuts.

“I hate to see a reduction in teachers, but I think there are areas where there’s room to make cuts,” she said.

She said both her children play sports, and a $100 annual fee per student for transportation seems reasonable, especially compared with other districts across the state. Still, she said residents should financially support the district to make sure there are plenty of opportunities available for local students.

“The fact that we have to beg for money is a sad statement,” Lattimer said.

The district will post information about the proposed changes to its web site and will continue to seek input from residents until the board makes a decision later this spring, Thiel said.

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