Pool backers cry foul on proposed shutdown

About 25 people told the School District 55 Budget Committee Monday night to find a way to keep the pool open while cutting the 2010-11 budget to meet a $1.1 million funding shortfall.

The district learned about the 9 percent shortfall two weeks ago, and administrators met last week to develop a list of possible cuts.

Following a public hearing, the School Board will decide Monday night whether to adopt a budget approved last month by the Budget Committee.

The board is likely to adopt that budget and then reduce spending by simply not spending the money, said Supt. Larry Horton.

The pool was the chief concern of about 30 members of the public who addressed the Budget Committee Monday night. About 25 of them asked the committee to keep the pool open and offered to serve on a committee to explore the idea of an aquatic district. About 130 attended the meeting.

“I know there are many reasons to keep the pool open,” Horton said. “There are many reasons why all of the items on this reduction list should not be reduced.”

As an aggregate, they noted that the pool has produced many championship swim teams and given Sweet Home a top-notch reputation around the state for its swim program.

Sweet Home is surrounded by lakes and rivers, and the pool is a lifeline for youths who are within walking distance.

It helps the elderly and disabled rehabilitate. Lois Maudlin told the board how she lost 110 pounds swimming. She stopped taking heart and blood pressure medications. When she came to Sweet Home, she was in a wheelchair, she said. Now she rides a bicycle.

Dr. May Hindmarsh told the committee that one in three of them would have heart disease, and a physician would prescribe rehabilitation. At the top of that list of activities will be swimming. She advised against cutting PE or the pool with a rapidly growing population of obese people and growing numbers of people suffering from type two diabetes.

Aquatics Director Junia Calhoon outlined the myriad programs offered by the pool, a place where Sweet Home Swim Club President Bruce Davis, himself a former swim star for the Huskies, says thousands have learned to swim.

The pool provides free lessons to elementary students throughout the district, she said. The programs serve all age groups, from children to senior citizens, in a variety of activities.

Doug Peargin was named aquatic director and swim coach in 1974. Three children had drowned in the previous five years. He was asked to design a program correcting strokes, teaching life-saving and ways to help persons struggling in the pool.

Since then, he said, he doesn’t think a single person who has been through the program has drowned.

“By closing the pool program, you sentence somebody to die,” Peargin said.

Members of the public urged the district to look outside the box to make sure the pool remains funded. They suggested the district seek help from the city and create an aquatic district in the long-term.

Ed Graville suggested that those making the most shouldn’t receive pay increases at the same percentage.

Bill Keeney said it was “dumb” to cut staffing to save $75,000 while spending $135,000 on a dead horse, with the district paying to maintain the pool so it doesn’t deteriorate while not in use. He suggested cutting into the 85 percent of the budget that pays for staff instead.

Liz Olsen asked whether closing or combining Holley or Crawfordsville was possible, while Katie Adams supported the proposal to move the four kindergarten students at Crawfordsville and Holley to Oak Heights.

“You can’t run a kindergarten class for four people,” she said. She would like to see the pool stay open, and she would like new textbooks, especially in math.

“I’ve got a good solution so we don’t have to close the pool,” said Board Member Chanz Keeney. A spending freeze nets $5,000 in the proposed cuts, while moving kindergarten from Crawfordsville brings the school closer to a trigger point of 70 students to be considered for closure.

“I don’t believe that we should be cutting our textbook funds,” Keeney said. “I want more textbooks.”

He didn’t have an answer yet, but he wanted to know how much could be saved by freezing pay increases across the board.

The district pulled its offers to the teachers union in the current contract negotiations, he said. “But we haven’t even asked the classified yet if they’d take a pay freeze.”

With 9-percent cuts, Keeney said, “I don’t think anybody in this district should be getting a raise.”

He said he compared the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets. Even after reducing the 2010-11 budget by $1.1 million, it’s still larger than last year.

“I’ll tell you now, you won’t get my vote to close the pool or cut sports,” he said.

The teachers are open to ideas. The New Era was unable to contact classified representation prior to press time.

The district hasn’t approached the teachers yet, said Sweet Home Education Association President Dan Swanson, a teacher at Crawfordsville Elementary.

Horton said the district was planning to meet with employee unions on Thursday to talk about the issues.

“We received this information (the reduction list) a little after 4 o’clock on Friday afternoon,” Swanson said. It caught the teachers €“ and everyone else €“ off guard.

“We realize that there’s going to have to be some meetings and tough decisions, and we’re open to those,” said incoming President Lisa Canaday, a math teacher at Sweet Home Junior High.

“In most usual years, withdrawing your offer would be a violation of labor laws,” Swanson said. The teachers did not object because they know the circumstances are unusual. They continued to work with the district on language issues.

City councilors Jim Gourley and Ron Rodgers attended the meeting.

“We’ll talk about it in our council meeting,” Gourley said, regarding what they heard at the meeting. Their council meeting was scheduled for the next night, Tuesday.

Someone will need formally to ask the city for help, he said, and the school resource police officer position is another subject the council will need to talk about.

“We haven’t heard about any of these issues until tonight,” Gourley said.

For the city to change its Budget Committee, said City Manager Craig Martin. The process is too long to change the budget before the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

Most likely, to take action, the city would need to complete its budget process on time and then use the supplemental budget process later in the year, Martin said.

The total cut is about $1.1 million based on the state’s May revenue projections, which are $576 million lower than its March projections, leading to cuts across the board among state agencies.

Schools faced a similar situation in the 2007-09 biennium, said Business Manager Kevin Strong, but the federal government provided money to the state to help cover the gap.

The proposed cuts

The district proposes three priorities for budget cuts in 2010-11. How deep into the priorities it must cut depends on how many days it may cut from the schedule.

Among the first tier of cuts are two transfers for $50,000 each to the early retirement fund and long-term maintenance fund; $200,000 in reduced retirement contributions; $25,000 in discretionary funds; $5,000 in a spending freeze; moving Holley and Crawfordsville kindergarteners to Oak Heights; all new textbooks for $60,000; a 10-percent reduction in supply allocations for $27,000; and reducing .5 full-time equivalent positions from transportation.

The first priority cuts provide $458,000 in savings.

Second-tier cuts include $25,000 in a 10-percent reduction in sports budgets at the junior high and high school; reduction of a .5 FTE administrator at Holley for $40,000; two instructional assistants for $60,000; $20,000 in technology fund reductions; an elementary PE teacher for $30,000; another .8 FTE reduction for $20,000; one custodial position for $40,000; closing the pool for $75,000; reducing the cafeteria by .3 FTE for $10,000.

The second priority would provide $360,000 in savings.

The third set of cuts would include the reduction of one teacher to save $60,000; one maintenance position for $45,000; a .5 FTE administrative position at the high school for $50,000; a .7 FTE reduction in the cafeteria for $20,000; two secretaries for $70,000; and paying early retirement benefits from the early retirement fund for $135,000.

The early retirement fund has between $2 and $3 million in it. The district has a total early retirement liability of nearly $30 million.

The third tier of cuts would save about $380,000 for a total savings of $1,198,000.

In lieu of the third set of reductions, the district could cut five school days to save $325,000, said Supt. Larry Horton. That would require agreements from the teachers, classified employees and administrators.