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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Sylvania school district unveils plan to cut $6 million

Sylvania's Board of Education got its first look at the details of how to cut $6 million from the district's budget next year Monday night, along with what is presumably just its first earful from teachers and others unhappy with the consequences.

District administrators Monday night detailed the cuts that include the full-time equivalent of 82 teachers and other certified staff, plus 29.5 support staff. Elementary guidance positions and gifted-and-talented specialists would be eliminated, as well as reading and math "intervention" teachers in the grade schools and the family consumer science program in the junior highs.

Bus routes would be consolidated, especially for high school students, and transportation for some sports could become one-way, with parents expected to pick up their children after games. Pay-to-play fees would rise, lunch prices would increase by 25 cents in all schools, class sizes would grow, and elective course options would be reduced.

"It's very unfortunate. We find ourselves in this position due to the economy and the state funding situation," said Vicki Donovan-Lyle, elected as the board's new president at a meeting earlier in the day. "But if we make these cuts, the face of education in Sylvania will change."

Superintendent of Schools Bradley Rieger said administrators are open to suggestions about how to change the budget-cutting plan, the dollar figure is not negotiable, and was based on how deep in the red the schools' finances would otherwise go at the end of the 2011-12 school year, he and Treasurer Laura Sauber said.

And even if district voters, who in November rejected a 4.9-mill operating levy request, OK a new tax to take effect next year, that is unlikely to stave off the cuts unless the rate is significantly higher, he said.

Several hundred people, many in blue Sylvania Education Association T-shirts, attended, and Mrs. Donovan-Lyle expects a big turnout when the board hosts a community forum about the district budget Thursday in the Sylvania Senior Center, starting at 7 p.m.

"These cuts represent many of the things unique about Sylvania schools," said Perry LeFevre, the teachers union president, who said cutting 16 percent of district staff "represents the greatest challenge to the Sylvania schools in my 25 years here."

Mr. LeFevre also said the teachers are holding a food drive, where they will donate one food item to charity for every hour they work off the clock.

Eliminating elementary-school guidance was the cut most often addressed during nearly an hour of remarks after the board concluded its own discussion.

Counselors help young children cope with family crises, bullying, and sometimes abuse, Pam Bennett, the Sylvan elementary counselor, said.

"Children seek out the counselor when the morning has had a lot of yelling and screaming, and they just need someone to say, ‘It's good to see you today,'?" she said.

Stacy Wachowiak, Highland school counselor, said school board policy requires guidance services be available at all levels.

Others protested cuts to core high school subjects, including dropping "double-block" math classes for math-challenged students.

Austin Serna, a Southview High School junior and the student Senate's president-elect, called on the board to eliminate "extra sports and clubs" to allow more teachers to stay in core curriculum areas.

Eliminating hockey, broomball, or "other low [participation] sports" would preserve academic programs, he said.

Two science teachers warned that crowding and outdated equipment could cause safety problems in high-school lab classrooms. Some classes already exceed the 24 students for which the labs were designed, they said.

"The cost of one lab accident could wipe out all of your cost-reduction savings," said Jennifer Crosley, Northview science teacher.

And ex-school board member Pam Haynam, asked if the board is still thinking about replacing Central Elementary, for which district plans a new building at a new site.

The board set a meeting for Jan. 22 to consider passage of the first of two resolutions needed to put a new levy request on the May 3 ballot.



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