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All options on the table as Hillman schools look to cut

HILLMAN — All options are on the table as the Hillman Community Schools Board of Education works to make budget cuts before the 2019-20 school year.

The board met Wednesday to discuss more cuts as the district works to overcome a $464,000 budget shortfall caused mostly by declining enrollment. The school has already identified 10 potential layoffs and approved nine, though five paraprofessionals were recalled.

A vote to eliminate a secondary social studies teacher position failed on Wednesday because board members want to see other options for cuts.

Different items were discussed Wednesday as potential cuts to help the district’s budget long term.

OPTIONS

Board President Kelly Burwell listed her own ideas for potential cuts: moving Hillman Elementary School students into the junior/senior high school building, eliminating busing for students who live within walking distance of the elementary school, having one K-12 principal instead of two and adding a dean of students for discipline, and eliminating the band/music program.

Moving all students into the junior/senior high school would make the school crowded, but Burwell said that, if that prevented teacher layoffs, that should be an option. Eliminating busing for students close to the elementary would eliminate a bus route.

Hillman had a K-12 administrator before, but it was a challenge for that person to run two buildings. Burwell said Atlanta Community Schools has a K-12 principal and, even though that district uses only one building, the option needs to be discussed in Hillman.

The band/music program was brought back in January 2018 after being gone for a few years. District Superintendent Carl Seiter said that, in his 25 years of education, he has never seen a new band teacher take a band program and thrive with it like Ben Witter has done.

“I’m here to tell you, not everybody plays sports and, if you eliminate that from our kids, what do we have?” Seiter said.

“We have to keep our core classes,” Burwell said. “We keep cutting at the middle school to where it’s barebones now. We need to share the pain.”

The industrial arts program was originally on the list of items to cut, but Seiter said district administrators removed it after discussing what would impact student schedules the least.

Burwell said there should be more options for students besides the core classes. She said there needs to be other opportunities for them to expand their knowledge so they are prepared for college, trade school, or whatever route they take after they graduate.

The idea of recruiting foreign exchange students was also suggested. Each student would generate approximately $8,051 in revenue, according to the district. Board Vice President Jack Matthias said that, if the district could recruit eight to 10 foreign exchange students, that would generate about $70,000 to $80,000.

“We need more students and, between now and September, that’s the only thing that will allow us to do that,” Matthias said.

SPORTS

Sports transportation was discussed on Wednesday.

Seiter suggested implementing a sports transportation fee, so each student would pay $50 per sport. That would generate $11,150 based on the 223 athletes from the 2018-19 school year.

The district eliminated pay-to-play a couple years ago, and what Seiter is suggesting now would raise half of what was generated from the previous pay-to-play policy. Board members suggested doing the fee plus bringing back pay-to play because it would generate money for the district and could get rid of other cuts that are proposed.

The board will discuss the idea of bringing back pay-to-play at a future meeting.

Board Trustee Kristen Ertz suggested eliminating sports altogether. That would save money, but the district could lose those students who want to play sports.

“I don’t think we could take a hit of 223 (students),” Burwell said.

The district has already lost 90 students the past few years, a hit of over $700,000 in revenue, Seiter said.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Seiter was questioned by people during public comment Wednesday about a career navigator position. Hillman and neighboring districts received a $1.9 million Marshall Plan for Talent grant in December for the next three years. That grant helps fund career navigators to help students prepare for what careers they want to pursue.

The career navigator would be a positive $24,000 for the budget, since it’s grant funds, but that’s down from the $31,000 Seiter had originally discussed last week. He said that’s because the career navigator will help junior/senior high school principal Bill Lake with some duties that aren’t eligible for grant payments.

Hillman Elementary School teacher Crystal Vogt said the cuts aren’t easy for the board or the people who work in the buildings.

“We’ve got to stop fighting each other, and we need to make this work,” Vogt said. “It’s the way it is. We know how enrollment is dropping, we know we’re losing jobs, but we have got to stop fighting and get along. We need to fight together.”

The board will hold another special meeting at 1:30 p.m. Sunday to discuss budget reductions. The board will discuss all options and then create their own motions to vote on.

“I’m at a loss at to what exactly we want,” Seiter said.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.