"I bleed blue," said Mark Catt. "If we have to pull back, then we had better pull back."
Those were the words of the 35-year teacher during the second of three planned informational meetings on proposed budget cuts in the Palestine Unit 3 school district.
Last month, Superintendent Joe Sornberger informed the public that the district is in financial trouble and would need to borrow money to get through this year, and would have to make staff and extracurricular activity cuts totally as much as $582,000. During Wednesday night's meeting, Sornberger presented his recommendations to the board and public for meeting that goal.
Sornberger has proposed cutting one elementary teacher, a social studies teacher, a special-education teacher, a math teacher, a physical education teacher, an English teacher, and the band and music teaching positions. As staff retire over the next two years, business and art positions and an additional elementary teacher position would not be filled.
Sornberger stressed that he is not recommending cutting individuals, but cutting the position. Most of the subjects would still be taught by remaining qualified teachers.
Extracurricular activities that would be cut include junior-high baseball, softball, track and scholastic bowl. High-school cuts would include golf, scholastic bowl and track.
The recommendations do not include further cuts to aides, cooks, janitorial or bus drivers that are also needed to balance the budget.
Sornberger further recommended that junior-high girls' basketball, junior-high boys' basketball, fifth- and sixth-grade basketball, high-school football and girls' basketball also be cut if they cannot be funded.
"I know that's a lot," Sornberger said. "Cuts are unpopular, and do not benefit the children."
While the cuts seem extreme, doing nothing would be worse for the district as a whole. The combination of reduced or prorated payments and late payments from the state has the district short about $800,000. Sornberger said Unit 3 will be out of cash to pay bills and meet payroll in late March or April. While the cuts are a strategic plan for the next two years, the district will have to borrow money and look at working cash bonds for the future.
Sornberger noted the problem there is that banks are reluctant to loan money to institutions supported by the state at this time.
"Long-term borrowing is not a solution," Sornberger said. "We must balance the budget. It is the only way to recover."
Sornberger explained that if the district did become financially unstable and the state had to step in, a committee would be assigned to make the decisions for the district. "That scares me," he said.
After Sornberger presented his recommendations and explained the financial need, the question of consolidation was raised by Carl Heldebrandt. "Are we delaying the inevitable?" he asked.
Sornberger addressed the question of consolidation in two parts. One, that he has been working towards the goal of keeping Palestine as an existing school district. But he said if he is told to investigate consolidation, he would. Two, consolidation is a long process that may or not solve the district's problems.
The other options of annexation or deactivation also present their own questions and would have even less favorable results.
While several specific questions were asked about making cuts to utilities, volunteer staff, the effect a lack of extracurricular activities would have on students, and what would still be available, Sornberger could only say it will depend on what the board decides to do over next couple of months. Once the board decides on a course of action, then he could get into specifics.
"Students will still receive the education needed to meet graduation requirements," said board member Don Wagoner.
"The goal is to keep the school district here," Sornberger said. "First year, it is going to be rough."