Robinson Unit 2 school board members want more information about what options are available as they struggle to cut a half-million dollars out of next year's budget.
"What now?" President Dennis Inboden asked during the board's meeting Monday. He and other members said they want to know more about working with other area school districts - everything from co-oping programs to joining forces to buy items such as insurance, to consolidation.
"We're all in the same boat," Inboden said. "It just depends on how much water you have in your boat."
Unit 2 officials expect to end the 2012-13 school year about $1.5 million in the red. With the state continuing to cut funding and costs continuing to increase, the deficit spending is expected to worsen.
The added costs associated with the Affordable Care Act alone could add another $500,000 to the budget after Jan. 1, Inboden said. He called it "the straw that will break all the backs in the county."
Inboden said he would be interested in seeing the results of a consolidation feasibility study, but pointed out Unit 2 would have to have at least one other district willing to go in on the study with it.
He pointed out a study does not mean two districts will merge, it just means their boards will have all the facts so they can make informed decisions. Also, consolidations must be approved by voters.
Another option, the 1 percent sales tax that could have gone toward building maintenance, was shot down by Crawford County voters earlier this month. The referendum failed by a vote of 3,344 to 1,310, or 71.85 percent against.
The Unit 2 school board adopted a resolution in December to put the referendum on the ballot, but funds generated by the tax would have been shared by all public school districts based on their student populations. Under the law, Unit 2 - as the county's biggest district - had to be the one to ask for the referendum.
"It makes our path forward more challenging," Robinson Unit 2 Superintendent Josh Quick told the Daily News after the defeat. "It was another option we wanted to give the community. We gave the voters a choice; they made it and we will have to act accordingly."
In March, two members of the certified education staff were reduced in force. This month, Six non-certified employees were RIF'ed and 15 employees had their hours cut.
The board approved the honorable dismissal of educational support personnel Donna Rardin, Gloria Groover and Brooke Arnold.
Three other educational support staff members - Sherry Heidorn, Stacey Pinkstaff and Monna Pinkston - were honorably dismissed because they are being bumped by personnel in grant-funded positions who have greater seniority.
If Early Childhood Education grant funding is approved at the same level as this year by the state for 2013-14, the three women will be rehired.
The board also reduced the employment hours for support personnel Amanda Shaffer, Brandi Maxwell, Melissa Young, Beth Fritchie, Melissa Tewell, Sonya Dirks, Samantha Parker, Nancy Smith, Susan DeAmann, Jamie Waggoner, Lori Buchanan, Patricia Bunten, Jana Dickerson, Sydney Mitchell and Lauren Waddell. Because of the reduction in hours, they are no longer eligible for employee insurance.
In other personnel matters, the resignations of Washington Elementary School lunchroom supervisor Netta Phillippe, Robinson High School assistant volleyball coach Devan Fuller and RHS cheerleading sponsor Brittney Herrell were accepted. All are effective at the end of the school year.
Tim Nolen will retire as an elementary physical education teacher after the 2017-18 school year, while Unit 2 bookkeeper Marilyn Ferguson and WES instructional aide Teri Adams will retire at the end of this school year.
Leaves of absence were approved for WES speech pathologist Courtney Hoalt, Nuttall Middle School reading teacher Fuller, science teacher Deanna Woods and NMS language arts teacher Courtney Klier. Also, an employee identified only as "#10335" was dismissed for a "performance issue" effective at the end of shift April 30.
Also during the meeting, the district's budgetary woes killed an extracurricular program before it even started.
A proposal for fall baseball at NMS originally presented by Mark Hermann of the Crawford County Babe Ruth league in November died for lack of a motion Monday.
Fall ball would have given students not interested in football or cross country an outlet of their own. Under the proposal, the two-year pilot program would have been paid for by players' parents.
But it would have been required to follow Illinois Elementary School Association regulations, which meant Unit 2 personnel would have had to determine and report players' eligibility each week, a time-consuming - and therefore potentially costly - process.
Inboden, who liked the idea of fall ball and applauded Hermann's efforts, said he could not support the plan.
"Our situation has gotten much worse since [November]. We laid off people last month and again this month," Inboden said. With program cuts possible, he said it would not be right to add one now. Extracurriculars already cost the district about $400,000 per year.
"To add something in the state we're in is absolutely counterproductive," he said. "A penny is too much."
Bill Ecton and Debi Lowrance also liked the proposal, but said the timing is just wrong.
Monday was the final regular meeting for Lowrance, who has been on the board since 1997, and Leslie Swaner, who has been on since 2001. Both members opted not to seek re-election in the April 9 consolidated election. They were feted with a reception prior to the meeting and presented with plaques honoring their service.
"It's been an honor and a privilege to serve," Lowrance said, adding everyone should take the opportunity to give back to the community.
"It's been a joy working with this board," Swaner said.
"It's sad they won't be with us next month," Quick said. "They will be missed."
That said, he added he looks forward to working with new board members Nancy Berty and Stacy Shew. Both women were present Monday but could not be seated because the results of the election will not be canvassed until Wednesday. They will officially join the board during a special meeting April 30.
In other business, the board:
Approved loaning $400,000 from the working-cash fund to the education fund.
Approved renewal of the athletic trainer contract with Crawford Memorial Hospital.
Learned the RHS Academic Foundation has purchased an iPad cart that will hold 30 iPads to be used by students.
Approved student handbooks for all four schools.