Graham Local schools deal with cuts, will seek new levy in November

As a new school year rolls around, students and families in the Graham Local School District are already seeing the effects of a failed levy attempt last May.

Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said less than 50 votes in the election meant $1.5 million cut from the budget and 15 jobs lost.

Many of those jobs lost were school bus drivers, as transportation costs took one of the biggest hits. Koennecke said that means lengthy bus rides, longer waits and inconvenienced parents. He referenced some students who had to wake up at 5 a.m. just to catch their bus on the first day of school Tuesday.

MAY 2018: Superintendent: ‘Our need is very real, it did not go away’

“It’s one of the reasons why we’re making sure we’re providing breakfast in the classroom to all of our students,” he said.

Koennecke said he received calls from several concerned parents on the first day about the changes.

The average ride time on the bus for students increased by about 10 minutes, but in some cases, students actually added a half an hour each way.

“Getting up earlier and waiting in the dark — that’s something that none of us want,” he said.

Busing isn’t the only thing affected by the levy failure — fees also increased for preschool and play-to-play athletics. Koennecke said at the middle and high school levels, pay-to-play increased by nearly 40 percent.

“That’s a big hit to over 850 of the 1,300 families that we serve — many of the families have more than one child in the schools,” he said.

But Graham is headed back to the ballot this November, asking voters a third time for the same one percent earned income tax for a five-year term. The funds could generate $2 million for the district, and would cost a taxpayer who makes $30,000 about $300 a year.

EARLIER: Champaign County school district looks to put income tax on ballot Nov. 2018

A similar increase was defeated in November 2017 by 61 percent to 39 percent, but narrowly missed by the mark in May by less than 50 votes. Koennecke said while digging into details of the May election failure, the district learned that over 400 parents still did not turn out to vote.

“We can fix these things that are causing problems today on the opening day of school, which should be a day of celebrating learning for students,” Koennecke said.

Graham parent, Kathy DeWeese voted for levy in November and again in May, citing her beliefs in providing quality education for children. DeWeese has one student in high school and another who graduated in 2016. 

“After reviewing the numbers, it isn’t so much in how the funds are spent by our district,” she said. “The real issue is how little funding the district gets, especially compared to other districts. I think Graham is doing wonderful things on a shoestring budget -- just think of what they could do with proper funding.” 

DeWeese said she was disappointed with the narrow loss in May, knowing that cuts were looming.

“We should be more thoughtful of the huge responsibilities put upon leadership at the schools. I think until you walk in their shoes, you are second guessing,” she said. “[While] we should hold leadership accountable and there are avenues to make that happen, like attending school board meetings and staying involved. I just haven’t seen any fraud, waste or abuse that would lead me down such a skeptical path as I’ve seen on some social media about the levy.”

She will be voting ‘yes’ for the levy again in November. 

Koennecke said if this levy doesn’t pass, more cuts would be on the horizon — an additional $600,000. If it does, it’ll be the first since the early 1990s.

“It’s a 60-year-old school district that has only passed three levies. I think after 26 years, it’s about time to start reinvesting in our community,” he said.

Koennecke said the district will be holding several events before the November election to provide information to families about the levy. There will be a parent action forum at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 at Graham Middle School.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Community News

Jet Airways flight in India forced to return due to low cabin pressure
Jet Airways flight in India forced to return due to low cabin pressure

A Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Jaipur in India was forced to turn back Thursday when 30 passengers complained of nose and ear bleeds because of low pressure in the cabin, CNN reported Thursday. >> Read more trending news  "The B737 aircraft, with 166 guests and 5 crew landed normally in Mumbai," Jet Airways ...
Sprint Car driver Greg Hodnett killed in crash during race
Sprint Car driver Greg Hodnett killed in crash during race

Sprint Car driver Greg Hodnett was killed in a crash Thursday night during an event at BAPS Motorspeedway in York Haven, Pennsylvania, the World of Outlaws said in a news release. He was 49. >> Read more trending news  Hodnett, from Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, was a five-time champion at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania and was...
2 Missouri men found with 2 kilos of fentanyl, police say
2 Missouri men found with 2 kilos of fentanyl, police say

Two men from Missouri were arrested on federal drug charges Thursday after authorities caught them with two kilograms of fentanyl, enough for 1.5 million doses of the painkiller, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. >> Read more trending news  Two men, Ruben Lopez, 27, and Jonathen Andrew Aguilar, 31, both of St. Charles, were...
‘Cat Grandpa’ snuggles with felines at pet shelter
‘Cat Grandpa’ snuggles with felines at pet shelter

A 75-year-old Wisconsin man is giving new meaning to catnaps. >> Read more trending news  Terry Lauerman, of De Pere, has been volunteering at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay for the last six months, and photographs of him fast asleep while several of the shelter’s cats snuggle up to him on couches have gone viral, the Green...
Sweet story: Iowa man, 94, passes out Hershey's chocolate bars to residents 
Sweet story: Iowa man, 94, passes out Hershey's chocolate bars to residents 

A 94-year-old Iowa native has been sweet to residents in his small town for more than 15 years. Bob Williams is known as the “Candy Bar Man” in Long Grove, and his kindness has been a sweet story to many residents. >> Read more trending news  Williams, who taught psychology in nearby Davenport for 39 years, stocks his refrigerator...
More Stories