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Time for the School Board to do its job

Reading last week’s Chronicle account of the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board meeting sparked flashbacks. The School Board was discussing program and staff cuts … again.
Over 15 years ago, the GSL Board went through tumultuous times in trying to extricate itself from statutory operating debt (SOD) and was faced with agonizing budget cuts. The School Board hemmed and hawed back then, and the problems only got worse.
So last week’s discussions of trimming the music program and lopping off a section of fourth graders for next school year were meek and mild compared to the bloodletting of the early 2000s.
But the decision to not trim back a section of fourth grade and a decision not to cut back the music program is a path we’ve been down before. That’s how SOD began nearly a generation ago. And delaying tough decisions often comes back to bite.
Let’s hope the current GSL Board members remember those bad old days and not want to see them return.
If enrollment numbers do not support five sections of fourth graders, then the board needs to address that issue. If the music program is not going to sustain cuts, and cuts are necessary, then what gets cut? Whose ox gets gored?
One positive that came out of the SOD debacle years ago was the School Board’s decision to make cuts mandatory if the unreserved general fund balance dips to 20 percent or below. While not there yet, GSL is heading in that direction because the School Board has been spending down its fund balance over the past several years, meeting demands for more services, either mandated or voluntarily.
Regardless, the fund balance is nearing that 20 percent mark and cuts will be needed to maintain enough reserves to be able to cash flow the district’s future budgets.
The current School Board now needs to follow its own rules. The first rule is to stop spending money, or else shift priorities in making cuts.
What are your priorities? If a growing and popular music program is a priority, what else could be trimmed to keep that funded?
The School Board indicated it looked at several options, including asking for more money from taxpayers. That should be a last resort, not a first option.
Enrollment is a critical component for school budgets. Declining enrollment equals less state funding. It appears we continue to see declining student numbers.
It was ironic that in the same article on the school cuts came the addition of three positions involving special education needs, a Title I teacher in the junior high special education program, a half-time speech teacher and a full-time special education teacher at Lincoln Elementary. Where’s that money coming from?
Another factor is unfunded or underfunded state and federal mandates.
Special education continues to require more and more of GSL’s budget each year. That is an issue that needs to be addressed at the state and federal levels. If more special education mandates are coming down the pipeline, then the state and federal government need to step up and pay for them, and not rely on the locals to shift finite funds away from other equally important programs.
So School Board members, beware of delaying cuts. Make the tough decisions. We’ve been down that road of procrastination before, and we didn’t like it!
After reading Business Manager Michelle Sander’s recent Panther News column, it is encouraging to see she is right on top of this issue. Now the School Board needs to do its part.
Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, 2014, but still plans to submit an occasional column.