Teutopolis School District Residents Ask Questions, Offer Input on Balancing the Budget

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Published on January 4 2013 2:57 am
Last Updated on July 14 2013 4:07 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

Some 150 residents of the Teutopolis school district gathered Thursday night to hear ideas from Superintendent Bill Fritcher on how to cut costs and raise revenues.  The initiative is the result of direction from the school board for $1 million in potential budget cuts.

Fritcher and Board President Marty Siemer took the lead in the presentation, which follows a survey mailed to district residents earlier this school year.  In contrast to many such surveys, a large majority of residents responded to the survey and returned it to the district office full of input.

Thursday night's meeting was the chance to get questions answered and offer face-to-face input.  The tough part may be getting a consensus.

One recurring theme, though, was opposition to increasing class sizes in Grades K-6.  Teachers and parents alike disagreed with that proposal; teachers voicing concerns over being able to comply with the new Common Core curriculum guidelines being implemented in Illinois and parents wondering how teachers would give their children the attention necessary to make sure they succeed in school.

There was also discussion of closing Teutopolis Junior High School and relocating those classes to Teutopolis Grade School.  Most of those present disagreed with the idea and the proposal also did not get a good review on the survey. 

Board member Jim Buhnerkempe pointed out, though, that all of the junior high students could be moved to the grade school and the grade school would still be accommodating 140 fewer students than when the junior high school was built.

Athletics was also a major topic.  Fritcher offered ideas such as eliminating some programs and raising participation fees, but some in attendance argued that participation in athletics makes for a more well-rounded educational experience.  Others contended that the bottom line was educating students and athletics and some other extra-curricular activities might have to suffer.

There was also support for increased volunteer assistance with sports and other extra-curriculars.  If some of those actions involve replacing those who now receive a stipend for their services, that might have to be bargained with district employees before it could be implemented.

Fritcher pointed out cuts in funding from the State and the uncertainty as to how much money will be forthcoming in future years as a consideration.  One resident asked whether a lawsuit that would sue the State for revenue contributed by local districts but not completely returned has been considered.  Fritcher said he'd talk about the idea at an upcoming Regional Superintendent of Schools meeting.

Still another proposal was to consider even deeper cuts to get the District on a sound fiscal footing and to make sure this issue wouldn't need to be revisited every year.

Several questions addressed the duties of district administrators and whether they need to be given more to do or whether some administrative positions should be cut?  Others contended that administrators are being asked to do more both from the State and from the District and a study showed that Teutopolis has a higher student-to-administrator ratio than any other district in the county.

There was some brief discussion of a property tax increase to provide additional revenue.

Here are some specific proposals presented by Fritcher at Thursday's meeting:

--double the athletic participation fee

--raise lunch prices

--raise driver's education and registration fees

--establish participation fees for all extra-curricular activities

--increasing class sizes at the primary grades

There was one suggestion to look at contract busing, but Fritcher said he had not looked into the idea.

Fritcher also pointed out that eight teacher resignations at school year's end would save $382,000, and other possible staff reductions could save another $128,000 for a total of $510,000 in savings.

Another thing to consider...the possibility that the State will shift the burden of handling teacher pensions to the local districts, something that many administrators expect in the next few years.

Siemer said that the Board hopes to make their decisions by late February or early March.  Fritcher said the survey results and Thursday night's presentation either is or will be by the weekend on the Unit 50 website.