Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

January 4, 2013

Unit 50 eyes budget cuts

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

TEUTOPOLIS —     More than 150 people attended Thursday’s special meeting of the Teutopolis Unit 50 Board of Education in the Teutopolis Grade School gymnasium.

    About a quarter of that crowd had something to say.

    A number of people in the crowd had helpful hints for board members and administrators on the best ways to deal with a projected budget deficit for more than $1 million.

    The board had called the meeting to solicit public input on how to deal with the deficit. And, public input they received after a presentation by Superintendent Bill Fritcher in which he detailed projected cuts totaling nearly $620,000.

    While most of the cuts would come from not replacing retiring or resigning teachers, Fritcher said extra-curricular activities would also take a hit if the proposals are adopted.

    On the chopping block would be the high school’s FFA program, as well as marching and pep band, drama and newspaper programs.

    On the sports side, the board is considering staff cuts to high school and junior high baseball, and junior high basketball, primarily on the lower levels of competition. He said the staff cuts might force the remaining coaches to start cutting players on the junior high level, something the district’s hasn’t previously done.

    Also proposed are miscellaneous expenses such as cell phones for administrators and bus drivers, overnight conferences for staff and student field trips.

    Fritcher said a complete list of proposed cuts would be available soon on the district’s website.

    The superintendent added that not replacing retiring teachers, particularly on the grade school level, could bump class sizes to the high 20s, or even low 30s. That was a hot topic during public comments that lasted more than an hour Thursday.

    One woman in the audience said increasing class sizes would be “devastating” to the quality of education in the school district.

    “In other school districts, people look at T-town as leaders in education,” she said. “Increasing class sizes is ridiculous.”

    Another woman said proposed class sizes in the high 20s for first- and second-grade classes is “completely heartbreaking.”

    “I am shocked that we are looking at those kind of numbers in first- and second-grade classes,” she said. “It’s completely heartbreaking that we are looking in that direction.”

    Other speakers questioned the need for what is perceived by many as a full-time athletic director, though Unit 50 AD Andy Johnson doubles as assistant principal at the high school.

    “Is there any way we can have him (Johnson) teach some driver’s ed classes?” one speaker asked.

    Fritcher noted that the district has added a number of sports in recent years. Moreover, he said, Teutopolis tries to host a large number of sporting events, thus increasing the workload for an athletic director.

    “We try to host as many events as we can, so parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and fans don’t have to drive all the time to see our kids play,” he said. “But that’s more work for us.”

    One man suggested increasing activity fees instead of increasing class sizes.

    “We (parents) can start picking up slack on our end,” he said.

    Another speaker suggested reducing the number of athletic contests being played each season, while another suggested utilizing the services of volunteer coaches from the community.

    One speaker suggested that whatever cuts are made be deep enough to sustain the district for several years.

    “I am suggesting going deeper in cuts, so we don’t have the repeat this,” the man said. “What will keep us from repeating this two or four years down the road.”

    Board president Marty Siemer told the crowd after the comment session that the board would make a final decision on cuts in late February or March. Siemer said after the meeting that he was impressed with the turnout and the level of input from the crowd.

    “This will be very useful,” Siemer said. “It’s great to have input from the community that cares about their kids and the education they are getting.”