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Published: Wednesday, 8/13/2003

Swanton schools to choose tax approach; layoffs eyed

SWANTON - The Swanton Board of Education is to decide Monday whether to ask voters for a 1 percent income tax or a 7.8-mill property tax in November.

Meanwhile, the superintendent said that early next month he will propose eliminating 20 to 25 jobs - mostly teaching positions.

The board, which last week lost its second operating levy request this year, on Monday took the first step toward putting another levy on the Nov. 4 ballot.

It did not, however, adopt Supt. Kevin McQuade's pay-to-play proposal for sports, marching band, and cheerleading. And it let board member Doug Lee's motion for a $25 fee increase for all students that would have raised $37,000 die for lack of a second.

The board is unlikely to vote on further cuts Monday, Mr. McQuade said. But he said he will call for a special meeting early next month to propose job cuts that would save the board $1 million to $1.25 million a year. Without adding revenue or reducing expenses, the board would be $2.2 million in debt by next summer, Treasurer Jeff Price said.

If the board agrees to Mr. McQuade's expected proposal, some elective classes for high school students would not meet after the first quarter, which ends Oct. 31. And some elementary classes would be combined for the rest of the year.

The changes are not being made at the beginning of the school year - classes start Aug. 25 - because union contracts require the board to give teachers 60 days notice before layoffs, Mr. McQuade said.

His proposed cuts are expected to delve deep into the ranks of the district's 78 teachers and approximately 22 other employees. And he said if the levy fails in November, he would ask the school board to cut all sports and extracurricular programs for the rest of the year.

“I'm a taxpayer too, so I understand what people are saying,” school board member Barb Schmidt said yesterday. “But on the other hand, I'm really, really frustrated with our voters.”

She said staff cuts likely would remain in effect through the final three quarters of the year, even if a levy passes in November. Children who need extra help learning will fall behind in large classes, she predicted.

“You can't get back the year these kids are going to lose,” she said. “It just makes me sick to my stomach.”

Mrs. Schmidt was the lone “no” voter Monday on a motion to stop busing high school students and make other transportation cuts, allowing the board to eliminate four school bus routes and save $140,000 a year. She said she was torn on how to vote.

She agreed with levy committee members who said the board should cut more bus routes - including transportation for elementary students who live within two miles of their school - because levy publicity said that is what would happen if the income tax failed last week.

She agreed with staff who said the schools' mission is to educate students, not bus them, and that by cutting more bus routes, the board could keep more teachers. But she said she fears cutting even four bus routes could put students' lives in danger.

“I didn't like any of the options,” she said.


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