Budget, staff cuts proposed by district

Mechanicsburg wants to first tighten its belt before asking for money.

For local parents and students, it will mean fewer options for classes, fewer bus routes and new fees to participate in sports, among other changes.

Dan Kaffenbarger, district superintendent, said the recommended cuts could eliminate as many as 15 positions, including one teacher each in physical education, Spanish, art, music, industrial technology and a part-time agricultural position. Those cuts would save as much as $300,000 for the district.

The number of bus routes would be reduced, the technology budget would be reduced by $40,000 and a participation fee of $50 per student would be added for sports, with a cap of $200 a year per family.

Overall, the district’s budget is about $9 million a year, so a $750,000 cut will be painful, Kaffenbarger said.

“(The board) made the decision that we want to first tighten our own belt and get this under control before we go back to the community for any money,” Kaffenbarger said.

Patricia Sheffield, district treasurer, said the deficit was the result of several factors, including stagnant state funding and a downturn in the economy that led to a decrease in income tax revenue for the district.

While the school board approved the reduction plan this week, the cuts would not kick in until the end of the school year. The district will re-evaluate its financial situation in May when it updates its five-year forecast.

“We’ll try to restore every position we can,” Kaffenbarger said.

He said the district last asked voters for new money when a 1 percent income tax levy was approved in 2006. It was renewed last year. Kaffenbarger said that unless the economy changes dramatically, the district will not likely seek a new levy this year.

He said the district recently negotiated with its teachers’ union, which agreed to several concessions. The district still has to negotiate with its classified employees, and it is possible that some of the positions that were eliminated could be brought back.

He said eliminating positions is a last resort for the district, but few other options remained because of the size of the budget gap.

April Baker, an elementary intervention specialist and president of the Mechanicsburg Education Association, said the teachers’ union did what it could to prevent further cuts.

“I think our district will do everything they can to minimize the impact on our students,” Baker said.

She said union members gave back a 1 percent raise slated for next year, as well as step increases, which are raises awarded for years of service or acquiring additional education. Union members also suspended a prescription reimbursement program and gave up attendance incentives that paid them $95 a day for any unused personal days.

“It was important to us being such a small district that we do everything that we can to save people’s jobs and minimize the impact on our students,” Baker said.

Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said it is common for districts to make similar cuts, even without attempting to pass a levy.

It is part of the school board’s responsibility, he said, to manage the district’s financial resources and consider the ability of residents to pay new taxes.

In addition, Ash said cuts are often necessary because even if a levy is approved, it can take months before the district will be able to collect any of the new funding.

Tammy Huemmer, president of the district’s parent teacher organization, said she hasn’t had a chance to review all the proposed cuts. But she said many parents were surprised by the size of the deficit.

“I haven’t really put it all in perspective yet,” Huemmer said.

Huemmer, who has twins in the fourth grade, said she often volunteers in the school. She said her main concern was that with the cuts, teachers may be forced to take up additional responsibilities instead of spending more time in the classroom.

• In other action, the board also approved a two-year contract extension for Kaffenbarger to serve as superintendent for both the Madison Champaign Educational Service Center and Mechanicsburg. The ESC board must also vote to approve the extension.

Kaffenbarger has served as superintendent for both districts for about a year. Mechanicsburg will pay about $80,000 for his salary, while the ESC would cover his benefits and about $40,000 in salary. Kaffenbarger said the extension will save Mechanicsburg about $80,000 overall.

Dan Gaver, president of the Mechanicsburg Board of Education, said the district has been pleased with Kaffenbarger’s work over the past year.

“Dan has done an excellent job as superintendent of Mechanicsburg Schools,” Gaver said. “His salary will remain the same, $80,000 per year with no benefits attached. With the way of the economy, no consideration was given by the board to increase his salary, nor would Dan have asked.”

Kaffenbarger said the agreement could not work without the support of both the ESC and Mechanicsburg boards.

“It’s been a real good feeling to see you have a board in your corner,” Kaffenbarger said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0355.

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