New Gov. Mitch Daniels has made it clear that educational funding is of fundamental importance but there will be no new additional funds. This forces schools across Indiana to face the reality of the financial situation head on and make difficult decisions.
In a special work session on Wednesday, Jan. 19, the Clay Community School Board faced the reality without flinching and discussed options for improving the fiscal state of the corporation.
The board had requested ideas from the administration regarding areas that could be cut without impacting the educational needs of the students of Clay County.
After a brain-storming session of all administrative personnel, school principals and supervisors, a varied list of options was created in order of priority.
The list of eight areas suggested by the administration is controversial for many.
Option one suggests a repeal in the Academic Honors Diploma program passing the money directly to students. This money could be used by the corporation to fund the salaries of those teachers that teach the classes provided by the AHD program.
The second option involves the closure of an unspecified elementary school and putting the building up for sale, an idea and rumor that has been debated in the community for quite a while.
"We came to the conclusion that we either keep all of the schools and pay the bill, or get rid of one school and still maintain the quality of education," Clay City Elementary Principal Jon Russell said.
Administrators recognize the closure is feasible with minor adjustments to bussing routes, but would impact students who walk to school.
"Our best performing schools are those in town where parents and students walk to attend after school educational programs," Board member Steve Grigsby said, explaining that these students would not have transportation to a school farther away and the money saved from such a closure would be minimal.
The issue of cutting or eliminating extended teaching contracts for those teachers that have responsibilities throughout the year is another option available to the school board. But teaching positions in the business program, agriculture program and building trades could actually use more time, not less. There is one position that will be eliminated due to the loss of CAPE Grant funding in November and several other possibilities.
A list of all teaching and administrative extended contracts will be available for discussion at the next meeting.
Cutting secondary classes not meeting the required enrollment threshold is also an option, but it is already being stretched to its limits now. Thirteen elective courses once available for a student to receive an Academic Honors Diploma were cut earlier this year. For students to meet the higher graduation requirements of CORE 40, certain classes must be provided to students, but Board member Joe Thomas recognizes that there may be "wiggle room" for fine tuning the teaching staff in grades six through twelve.
The national issue of cutting extra-curricular activities now faces the community and the school board. ECAs are activities outside of classroom instructional time where students can participate in educational groups, athletic events, music and drama. With $250,000 being spent on secondary athletic programs, the discussion of budget cuts could become a reality as in many schools across the nation.
Board member Terry Barr suggested that there must be areas where cuts could be made, but many of the positions are contracted and require negotiations before removal. Discussions at greater length are expected at the next meeting.
The elimination of at least one of the software trainers hired at the beginning of several technology projects was discussed as another way to help the budget. Their importance was recognized by the board, but it was decided that it was an expense that could be eliminated without difficulty.
Replacing media specialists with instructional assistants, option seven, proved to be a problem for North Central Accredited schools in the corporation like Clay City Jr./Sr. High and Northview. The three schools could lose their accreditation if this happens.
Clay City High School Principal Paul Sinders explained that although he has personal concerns about NCA, it offers prestige and indicates that a school has achieved a higher standard than others in the state and that the accreditation "helps students entering certain colleges."
The final option placed before the school board was the possible elimination of 10 instructional assistants from areas other than Special Education, Title 1 or Prime Time. There are approximately 50 corporation instructional assistants that could be affected, and while their importance in classroom instruction is duly noted by principals, they are looking for cuts that would create the most money.
The meeting was adjourned unanimously by Terry Barr, Len Fischer, Steven Grigsby, Jim Guy, Ted Jackson, Dottie King, Joseph Thomas and Superintendent William Schad.
Further budget discussion will be held in a Special Session on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. at North Clay Middle School Media Center.