Budget cuts won’t be on the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont school board’s agenda until next week. However, this week’s budget hearing drew a crowd concerned about the proposed cuts.
“That budget hearing has nothing to do with the cuts we are making. The budget hearing has to do with one co-authorized budget for the district and for us to essentially establish our tax rate,” said Superintendent Dean Cook.
Board members approved a budget that will set property tax rates at about $10.18 per $1,000 valuation, a 56-cent decrease over the current $10.74 per thousand valuation.
However, this figure can be amended by the state if a 2 or 4 percent allowable growth rate for schools is approved by state legislators. That could push the tax rate up to $10.24 or $10.30 per $1,000 valuation.
However, to meet this budget, there is a proposal for about a half-million dollar staff cut. A proposal to reduce the agriculture program by 25 percent has been removed, but several other cuts remain on the table, including a special education teacher, 12 para-educators, three librarians, a music teacher, maintenance, utility, building and trades teacher, a part-time art teacher and reduction in days for three secretaries.
Alumna Devan Voss spoke on behalf of the building and trades program, which is facing a proposed 100 percent cut. She noted that the skills she and her brothers learned in this program helped them to rebuild their family home after it burnt to the ground.
Meanwhile, parent John Van Zante asked the board not to cut the music program.
“It is a program that is graded, it counts toward grade point average and it is also a program that all participants are able to compete at our competitions at a varsity level. Nobody sits on the bench,” he said.
Van Zante told the board that currently students in Fremont must go to group lessons as opposed to individual lessons due to the music teacher’s full schedule. He was concerned that if a teacher is cut in that department, students will receive even less instruction.
Community member Terry Brady urged the board to consider other options for the budget.
He pointed out that the district has a large cash reserve, insisting that “no major cuts of educators or education programs are needed after all. At the end of fiscal year 2014, there will still be a large reserve fund of over $2 million. And the likelihood of the state Legislature and governor approving an allowable growth rate for the state public schools of 2 percent or even 4 percent is very good.”
He went on to urge the board to consider consolidating elementary school buildings to “allow better and more flexible education programs and to be able to better use teachers and staff in a more efficient manner.”
Also on the night’s agenda was approval of some coaching positions. Board member David Friedman asked to have consideration of the future of ninth-grade teams on an agenda this summer. He noted fewer players are going out for some of these sports, yet the district continues to fund ninth-grade, junior varsity and varsity teams and coaches.
“There are only so many dollars, and we can’t always take it from education. I’m talking about looking at this in the future,” he said.
A special board meeting has been scheduled to discuss and consider budget cuts next week. No public forum is planned for that meeting.
Crowd comes to support program
The Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont School Board welcomed a standing room-only crowd this week in response to recent recommendations to make budget cuts that could affect a couple dozen jobs throughout the district.
In fact, the crowd that mostly came in support of the EBF agriculture program spilled out into the hallway as the room filled. Part of the recommended cuts had been to reduce ag teacher, Pat Powers’ position by 25 percent.
Superintendent Dean Cook opened the meeting saying of that proposed cut to the ag program, “I’ve been mulling this over for quite some time.
“Here’s what I’m going to do ... I’m taking this off the table. I understand the impact its going to have on this school district. I understand that. We can be proud of our program — we probably have one of the best programs in the state.”
More than a dozen people spoke at the board meeting in support of keeping the ag program in full force. Alumni with successful agriculture careers and more recent graduates of the E-B-F program currently attending college came to testify how the E-B-F program prepared and motivated them to pursue their chosen fields. Also current students and industry leaders spoke in support of Powers and the program.
Alumnus Justin Doyle demonstrated in detail how the E-B-F ag program meets the school district’s mission statement. He also noted how time consuming Powers’ job is when he showed the board the complex paperwork students complete with the advisor’s assistance to earn the American FFA degree.
Pekin Ag Instructor Justin Lamb and Allison Angle, a former ag instructor from another district, explained to the board how much time goes into a position such as this and the importance of a summer contract.
Meanwhile, John Deere Ottumwa Works Manager Andrew Hansen sent a representative to the meeting with a prepared statement urging the board to continue to invest in future generations with the E-B-F Ag Program.
Maurice Gardner from Cargill, an alumnus and former board member said, “We teach our kids if you work really hard and you achieve excellence, our society will reward you.” He urged the board to “show precedence to our students on how we treat those programs that truly do produce excellence in our community for our students.”
Cargill Corn Merchandising Manager Raymond Jenkins, also sent a prepared statement to the board: “Under the leadership of Pat Powers, our local ag education curriculum provides much more than the basics, it provides a foundation of life skills that are important whether the aspiration in life is to be a farmer, a plant technician or even a plant manager.”
“What a great feeling to me on the board to see the success that some of you people have got,” said board member David Friedman. “A lot of you have very successful careers now, and I am very proud of the teaching staff that we have, all teaching staff.”