Peabody-Burns school district hosted two meeting with patrons, taxpayers, parents, and staff during the past week to discuss the looming school finance crisis. A group of two dozen attended a meeting at Burns Community Center Feb. 23. A meeting Feb. 26 in the elementary school multi-purpose room drew about twice that number.
Opening the meeting at Peabody, Superintendent Rex Watson stated, “This evening you will find out there is not a whole lot yet that we know for sure.”
Watson said the board has discussed ways to trim the budget for the current year and has approved a list of belt-tightening items if necessary. However, he also acknowledged that until the legislature acts, there is not much concrete information available to those making the decisions.
Some of the cost-cutting suggestions have been previously published. They include delaying bus and car purchases, textbook purchases, non-essential supply purchases, adjusting the thermostat, and ending the school year May 14 when students reach the required 1,116 hours of attendance.
While budget issues may or may not affect the balance of the 2008-09 school year, no one is assuming education programs will be unaffected for 2009-10.
Watson noted that another proposal in the mix for USD 398 is a four-day week. Monday would likely be the day cut out of the school week. Several of the parents in attendance had daycare concerns and wondered if the switch would affect teacher contracts.
Watson said the four-day week could be a part of teacher negotiations, but an abbreviated week would not mean a pay-cut for teachers.
“Teachers are salaried and would be teaching four longer days,” he said. “They will get the same paycheck as they would for a week of five shorter days.”
Watson said he still is gathering information for the board regarding a four-day week.
“I think if they feel comfortable making the decision, it could be done at the March meeting,” he said.
Watson said he personally is against staff and salary cuts and is hoping any cuts will not affect staff positions or programs. The district must contact the teachers by May 1 if they intend to cut staff and/or programs.
Watson said that above all, the board of education is committed to maintaining the high quality of education in USD 398, to maintaining the programs and opportunities for children, and to protecting job opportunities for employees.
He also reminded those in attendance that to date no decision has been made at any level for budget reductions.
“Realistically, we expect some,” he said. “But we aren’t planning to lock the doors and send everyone elsewhere.”
Watson encouraged patrons to stay informed and not be swept up in speculation or stories that might be floating around.
“I’ve said before that my door is always open,” he added. “I welcome the chance to discuss this with anyone who has questions, concerns, or suggestions.
“We will be making the effort to keep the lines of communication open. Visit with your board members, call me, or stop by the central office.”
School board meetings are held the second Monday of every month, usually at the central office, 506 N. Elm, except for the months of March and October when they are at the Burns Community Building. The phone number is (620) 983-2198.