Facing a $200,000 deficit this fiscal year in what has become an annual problem, the Bright Local Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday night to eliminate two and a half teaching positions for next school year.
The board voted to eliminate an elementary music teacher’s position, a junior high math teacher’s position and half of a high school language arts teacher’s position for juniors and seniors.
Superintendent Dee Wright said the school district is looking at what will be right at a $200,000 deficit at the end of the current fiscal year. She said the district has been deficit spending – or spending more than it is taking in – by $150,000 to $200,000 annually for the last four to five years, except for one of those years when it made other cuts and adjustments.
Eliminating the two-plus teaching positions will save the district approximately $125,000, Wright said. She said the district is looking at double bus routing to make up the rest of the deficit, but that it has not settled on that for sure yet.
Wright said the decision to cut the selected positions was based on seniority and recommendations from the state.
“It is true, we are are spending about $190,000 and some more dollars than we are taking in. It’s eating into a reserve of what a few years ago was about $1 million,” school board president Steve Cox told a packed room at Bright Elementary as his voice choked and tears formed in his eyes. “It’s tough, because we know we have valued employees. It’s just unfortunate we’re in this vote.”
Part of the district’s financial problems are due to $173,000 in delinquent taxes owed to the district, Cox said.
“This is a poor community and this is a problem we have all the time with delinquent taxes,” he said.
Cox said that due to past deficit spending, the Ohio Department of Education has mandated that the district balance its budget. He said that if the district does not solve the problem, the state will step in and take the district over.
“I wish we didn’t have to lay anybody off … I wish we could add people,” Cox said. “…But we are looking at adding to our numbers (of students) in the classroom, and we have the lowest test scores in the state, which is something that needs to be addressed.”
Prior to a 1 hour and 25 minute executive session, in part to discuss the cuts, several community members, and even a student, spoke out against the cuts.
“My daughter said, ‘Mommy, you have to step up,’” said Zita Monteith, who has second- and seventh-grade daughters. “‘You have to say something, ‘cause they can’t take away my music… That’s what I like.’”
Melissa Gillespie said she’d done a lot of research on the arts and how they impact students. “What impressed me was how much the arts affect test scores. So how much is losing arts going to impact our test scores?” she asked.
Bright Local seventh-grader Darien Eakins told the board how the music teacher whose position is being eliminated worked with her for hours and hours on playing the oboe, so much that Eakins won a spot on an honor band, then how the teacher spent more of her personal time helping her learn the music she played as part of the honor band.
“If we lose music and art, how are these little kids ever going to experience that?” Eakins questioned. “If you don’t give them an idea of what they’re doing, by the time they get to sixth grade they’re never going to be interested.”
On Thursday, Wright said elementary art classes are being retained, and that the high school band and choir teacher will go to the elementary school in the afternoons to teach fifth and sixth grade band – or maybe only sixth grade. She said the details have not been finalized yet.
The superintendent told The Times-Gazette before the meeting that she was aware that many parents are upset about the cuts. “And I don’t blame them,” she said. “Do I think kids need elementary art and elementary music? Absolutely.”
At the meeting, Cox said, “I can appreciate all your concerns. We’re frustrated too because we wish we could afford more things.”
Before the executive session, Cox told the crowd that the district needs to pursue a tax levy. At the end of the meeting, treasurer Blinda Boothby said she’d pursue information on whatever type of levy the board would like to consider. She said that typically the school district has looked at real estate taxes for additional funding, but added that that puts most of the burden on farmers in the mostly rural district.
Cox said he was in favor of an income tax levy and asked the rest of the board members if they were in agreement. Most of them appeared to indicate that they were.
Jeff Gilliland may be reached at 937-393-3456 ext. 209 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.