Our opinion: Living with a poor trade

Some – and by that we mean more than just a few – of the options for cuts members of the school board were presented Monday night are disconcerting and display a disturbing picture of the future of the Warren County School District.

With a projected deficit of $4 million (a figure that is about 7 percent of its total budget), board members were asked to rate individual items on a menu of reductions and outright eliminations to services, curriculum and other programs. The three-point scale ranged from “Can’t live with cutting it (0)” to “Don’t want to cut, but will accept (1)” to “Willing to cut (2).”

The scores were then averaged for each of the 49 items.

Let’s be clear, the numbers game played by the board was simply to get an idea of its leaning. No hard-and-fast decisions were made Monday night.

However, based on scores ranging from 1.0 to 2.0 -meaning the board members could accept those reductions, about half the list – they are the expendables.

Among those are summer school, the loss of one or more full-time equivalent positions in English, German, Art, Kindergarten, elementary education and reading. In the case of elementary education, class size would be increased to 30 (Have you ever spent more than 15 minutes in a room with 30 first-graders?).

Five full-time equivalent positions would be cut from the Middle Level program, one from music and one from secondary chemistry/biology.

Another item, elimination of advanced placement courses and electives with less than 18 students, is apparently safe this year based on its score. But, if all the aforementioned cuts are made this year and more are needed next year, that item may be back and may move up the ladder of acceptance.

Do you see a trend here?

If there is fat in the school district’s ledger we don’t see it here. It may be very well hidden or ignored, but the items we just mentioned are part of the bone and sinew of a public education system in the 21st Century.

How did it come to this? How did the school district’s future look so grim?

Of course costs rise each year, state and federal subsidy reductions are out of local control, and we know that pension premiums will increase by about $600,000 next year.

But, at the same time, we are haunted by the fact that the district last year took on more than $30 million in debt to preserve four high schools by expanding two of them to K-12 centers. The resulting closure of as many of four elementary schools would save more than the expansions would cost, a concept we are now told was based on “soft” numbers that might not now be correct. Bowing to public pressure and the threat of the district’s dissolution into a collection of charter schools, the board opted to keep its shrinking secondary numbers spread across four high schools.

When that decision was made many in this community contended that the board was trading education for bricks and mortar.

The unhappy menu of cuts presented to the board might seem to bear that out.