PINE RIVER -- On a 4 to 3 split vote, the Pine River-Backus School Board Monday narrowly voted against closing Backus Elementary School and instead made $600,421 in budget cuts.
Board members, school administrators and staff prepared three options for the board to consider to meet its goal of cutting $600,000 next year in order to balance its budget. One of those options included closing Backus Elementary School and sending its 158 students to Pine River Elementary for a cost savings of $365,800.
A motion by board member Ed Shetka to close the elementary school and make an additional $252,291 in budget cuts was rejected by a 4 to 3 vote. Board members Ed Bettino, Rolland Christensen, Clarence Young and Jim Coffland voted against the motion while Carolyn Hamilton, Garny Gaffey and Shetka voted for it.
When outlining her reasons for voting to close Backus Elementary, Hamilton explained that the cost per student, including educational services, operations and building maintenance costs, was higher and continued to escalate at Backus Elementary. This year it cost $5,750 per student at Pine River Elementary and $6,607 per student at Backus Elementary, an $857 difference. Consolidating the elementary students into one building would require fewer staff and save on operational costs.
In order to consolidate the elementary schools, an elementary stage/performance area in the Pine River Elementary gymnasium would need to be converted into classrooms, as well as the music room. Early Childhood Family Education classes at Backus would have to be relocated to possibly a church basement.
About 75 people attended Monday's meeting. Many voiced their strong opposition to closing Backus Elementary.
Bettino said if the district needed to close Backus Elementary, then it should wait a year to make sure any problems could be worked out so the transition is a smooth one.
"Do you think people in this room will support that then?" Gaffey asked Bettino. "I don't think it's going to make a bean's worth of difference."
A second motion made by Coffland to make $600,421 in budget cuts passed by a 4 to 3 vote, with Coffland, Christensen, Young and Bettino voting in favor and Gaffey, Shetka and Hamilton opposed.
The majority of teacher cuts or reduction in teacher hours in the $600,431 in budget cuts approved Monday are attributed to the salary difference between a retiring and new teacher, or that teacher has decided to retire, but return on a part-time basis next fall. Or the position won't be filled after a retirement.
The largest impact may be on textbooks. The district plans to cut $70,000 from its approximately $90,000 budget for new or additional textbooks.
The $600,421 in budget cuts, or budget savings because of a reduction in that area, include the following: a full-time to part-time technology coordinator, $23,196; a full-time to part-time kindergarten teacher, $28,090; a full-time special education teacher, $35,293; one bus driver and one fewer route, $22,427; 10 percent fewer instructional supplies, $21,600; reduction in building maintenance supplies, $12,000; reassign and redirect maintenance staffing, $7,000;
A 3/4th time media specialist, $29,385; realign administrative assignments, $20,000; Alternative Learning Center supplies, travel and fees, $10,000; targeted services supplies, travel and fees, $2,300; school nurse, $6,000; textbooks, $70,000; one full-time Backus Elementary teacher, $34,554; a part-time high school counselor, $20,000; junior high athletics department, $15,000; high school management team, $6,759; central office, $15,000;
One full-time industrial education teacher, $49,924; increase fees/season passes and tickets, $5,000; 2.5 instructional assistants, $31,000; a part-time curriculum coordinator, $27,000; ECSE/Title One, $10,000; school board expenses, $5,000; heat and electricity by lighting only every other light bulb, $1,500; district auction or garage sale, $4,000; eliminate late activity bus, $9,893; and reduce middle level ALC to part-time, $20,000.
In addition to these budget cuts, the district plans to ask taxpayers to support a $700,000 operating referendum in November for the 2002-2003 school year.
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