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21 people get pink slips at Western

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:43 PM

COLLINS About 125 Western Reserve students, parents and staff attended Thursday's Board of Education meeting to protest the board's plans to cut 21 staff members.

The move is being billed as a cost-saving measure. Superintendent Don Barnes said the decision was not made quickly.

"We want to give the students the best education we can and live within our budget." He said the revamping of the schedule means more courses will be offered to more students, and talented teachers will no longer be used as study hall or cafeteria monitors.

"We spend too much money here," he said, adding compared to other schools Western spends too much on staffing and does not have nearly enough money in reserves. He said, "We have to turn this ship around."

The board voted to eliminate the following positions: 21/2 language arts, 1 science, 1 math, 1 social studies, 1 tech prep, 1 FCCLA, 1 heath/phys. ed., 3 elementary, 1/2 music, 1 librarian, 1 special education, 4 building substitutes, 11/2 secretaries and 3 aides.

Those affected will be Nan Link, Jan Jump, Aaron Mochon, Jeff Little, Amy Feliciano, Valarie Miller, Eric Dodd, Jack Underwood, Sarah Boss, Debra Strayer, Dolores Conklin, Molly Meyers, Cathy Zuk, Tania Chafin, Jennifer Nolan, Deonna Bethard, Daneile Cantrill, Bob Meagrow, Jessica Ritz, Beth Neuberger and Kari Dee-Breitbach.

Dan McCarthy of the Erie, Huron, Ottawa Educational Service Center was called in to make suggestions about how the school could save money.

"The '90s were a good time for education in Ohio," and many school districts added staff they can no longer afford.

Audience members suggested the school could have saved money by eliminating the drug-testing program and making changes in air conditioning and the phone system instead of cutting staff, increasing class size and reducing class offerings.

McCarthy said the board has made changes in other areas to save money, but between 76 and 85 percent of a school's budget goes to salaries and benefits and the only way to effect real change is to deal with those issues.

Parent Daniel Overstreet said, "I have heard a lot of rumors, and I would like to know how the kids' education will be affected by the cuts. I am not real happy about the situation."

Barnes said the average increase in class size would only be five or six students, and students would still have the courses they need to prepare them for college, tech school or the work world.

Much of the discussion centered around the complaint that the public was kept in the dark about the looming budget crisis. Many people said they would rather pay higher taxes than have staff eliminated and programs affected.

Board member Ken Boose said the board considered putting a levy on the ballot, but members felt it would not pass. "Nobody likes it when people lose their jobs, but you have to live within your means or go out and ask for more taxes," Boose said. "We don't think we can pass a levy."

Another parent in the audience responded, "We would have voted for the levy but you didn't give us a chance."

Treasurer Brett Robson said it would take an 11-mill levy in order to raise the money necessary, though he didn't have any figures to quote on how much this would cost a homeowner.

Barnes said he talked about the budget since coming to Western, both at board meetings and in the Western Front, but apparently the message didn't get through to many people. "I have said many times we are in trouble financially," he said. "We need to run in the black, and we are so close to the red, it is not funny."

One suggestion from the audience was to, "Take the summer and think it over and put it to a vote." School employee Ann Boyd read a statement asking the board to form a committee to study the issue before making any decisions.

Both Barnes and Robson said a school district should ideally have around 15 percent of its annual budget in reserve for emergencies, which for Western, with its $11 million budget, would be around $1.5 million.

At the end of this school year the district will have $183,000 in reserves, and Robson said without the personnel cuts, next year that would drop to $83,000 and by the end of 2011 the school would be $1.7 million in the hole.

With the reductions, there will be $433,000 in reserves at the end of next year and by 2011 it is projected that number will grow to $1.7 million.

"The bottom line is we are running out of money," Boose said before the vote. "Nobody likes it. I don't like it. There is no way people can afford more taxes."

He then suggested anyone who is interested get involved by running for the school board in November when three seats will be up for election.

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