School board meetings generally don't draw much of a crowd unless something significant is about to take place.
With almost 100 people at Monday night's Hays USD 489 work session, the significant issue was the board's intention to reduce the district's workforce to help erase an expected $1.3 million deficit for the upcoming school year. Sixteen certified staff members throughout the system have been informed they will not have a job when school resumes in the fall. Non-renewal notices are expected to be approved at next week's regular meeting.
Nobody wants to be laid off, of course. And each position that has been selected for reduction has its detractors.
Board President Greg Schwartz said it best when he offered: "We're going to get ridiculed on this whichever direction we go."
There certainly are good arguments to keep each job. But the fact of the matter is reduced funding from the state has consequences. While the local board of education can make decisions about most expenses, the majority of its revenue comes from Topeka. Legislators simply are ignoring a court ruling to reinstate some $440 million for K-12 education, so tough decisions are being made in the Hays district.
About the only way layoffs could have been avoided was if each position had its salary reduced. That proposal was rejected, as was another to save money by switching insurance plans. When it comes to overall compensation, teachers in Hays are in the top 10 statewide, so the reluctance is understandable.
It will be interesting to see if principals at each building selected positions that still will allow the overall excellent standards parents have come to expect.
One luxury some parents are accustomed to likely should be eliminated by the board. Busing students who live in town is an expensive chore the district should do without. This will force many parents to adjust their schedules, but it likely could prevent even more staff from being let go.
School board members also surprised the standing-room-only audience Monday by abruptly calling a special session into order and passing a resolution requesting an increase in the Local Option Budget. The 1-percent hike, if approved by voters, would generate an additional $200,000 annually as well as give the board authority to increase the LOB another 1 percent to 2 percent for next school year if it chose.
There really aren't many attractive alternatives for the board to pursue. We would ask each elected official to be as transparent as possible, and fully explain each decision. Patrons will be more likely to support the board if they're convinced what's best for children is being pursued, not mere expedience.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry