ST .LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KPLR) – The Hazelwood School District is bracing for massive budget cuts that will affect nearly everyone in the district, particularly grade school students.
The $6 million slashing of funds comes on the heels of a 22% decline in property values in the district over the past eight years. The sharp fall in values has been mirrored by a drop in property tax revenue, leaving the school district facing hard choices.
For the Arconati family, it means an early and harsh lesson in economics for two little girls. Sophia, a first grader, enjoys music class and wants to learn to play an instrument. It won’t happen through school now, thanks to the entire fourth and fifth grade orchestra and band program landing on the chopping block with the cuts.
“Why should that trickle down to the kids?” her mother Kelly asked Tuesday evening. “There has to be something else that can be done that doesn’t affect the kids.”
She’s equally upset by a fifty percent cut in physical education, a favorite of her third grader, Lily.
“I think for us it means what do our kids do all day? Are they expected to go to school and sit in a chair because we’re basically taking all their physical activity and extracurricular from them,” she said.
School administrators say they’re hearing plenty of what people don’t want to see cut, but few realistic alternatives.
They released a laundry list of items, Tuesday, including 25 teacher layoffs, a quarter of the custodial staff, and a $900 thousand cut to the administrative offices. Those moves, along with the P.E. and band decisions, help add up to about $6 million in savings.
“Our student achievement has been increasing the last several years and we plan on that continuing,” Hazelwood Schools C.F.O. Dwight Lindhorst said. “So we’re trying to eliminate those things that affect students the least.”
But the teachers’ union says the district has not been forthcoming about the process. They claim the little effort was made to notify them or the public about what was ahead, leaving them blindsided when the announcement was made.
“None of this was ever communicated to the employees or the community,” union president Diana Livingston said. “I think the community should have been involved a lot more because the community is upset that they’re taking away band and orchestra in fourth and fifth grade and PE teachers out of elementary schools.”
School officials say they did invite everyone to the table when it came to identifying areas to cut. They also say the cuts are not over.
“So we’re not finished,” Lindhorst said. “Over the next couple of years, yes. We have to find $6 million more just to balance our operating budget.”
A school board meeting is scheduled for February 16th, and plenty of angry parents are expected to attend.
Below is the release sent out by the Hazelwood School District
Hazelwood School District administrators recently announced its plan to reduce the budget over the next several years. The announcements were made during several meetings to its 2,400 staff members. The current year budget shortfall of nearly $15 million dollars is primarily due to declining property values. When comparing 2014-15 revenue raised from property taxes there was $15.7 million less than what was collected in 2008-09, which is one reason for the shortfall.
In addition, the District tries to maintain competitive salaries and benefits to retain and attract the best teachers, administrators and employees. Therefore, teacher and staff raises over the last several years have also contributed to the shortfall.
It is projected that the school district will begin 2016-17 school year with a $12.7 million operating deficit and the only ways to immediately reduce this deficit is through a combination of reducing expenditures and raising revenue.
District administrators have proactively eliminated positions through attrition (not filling open positions) for the last eight years, because of the projected revenue shortfalls. To protect the instructional programs, the District has been using reserves to cover operation deficits for the last three years. At the end of year, the unreserved fund balance will be down to the minimum amount per District policy.
Some of the approved reductions include:
- Reduce the central office budget by more than $900,000
- Eliminate central office positions
- Eliminate professional development and tuition reimbursement for administrators
- Eliminate four band/orchestra positions from elementary level, before school and during the day
- The school district will provide afterschool music instruction when possible
- Eliminate 13 physical education positions (elementary and high school levels)
- Eliminate field trips
- Restructuring the alternative education program
- Reduce high school athletic/activity fund by 10%
- Reduce high school extra duty contracts and benefits by 10%
- Reduce per student allocations – high school and middle school
- Eliminate warehouse position (one by attrition)
- Eliminate 25% of custodial positions
- Institute a community building usage fee in 2016-17