Canal Winchester schools slash budget

April 21 was filled with regrets as, one-by-one, Canal Winchester Board of Education members approved a sweeping list of cuts bringing an end to high school busing and upping the student-teacher ratio.

The reductions, made necessary by the failure of the district’s 8.9 mill operating levy in March, represent approximately $1.8 million in additional cuts above the $1.7 million in budget adjustments made since August 2007. As a result, high school busing will be eliminated, pay to participate fees doubled to $140, supply and equipment accounts further reduced, and five teaching contracts suspended with eight others involuntarily transferred.

Consolidated bus stops will be a permanent way of life for all other students in the 2008-09 school year. The cuts also include reductions in gifted services, extended service days, and the elimination of $100,000 in textbook purchases. Field trips and out of district professional development will be eliminated and the Canal Winchester Joint Recreational District is now billed for the use of district fields and facilities.

Eight varsity assistant coach positions were sliced from the budget, as were: the purchase of two school buses, high school programs with an average fewer than 15 students, the hiring of seven projected teachers and four classified staff positions, and an athletic trainer’s pay.

"This is a disappointing day for Canal Winchester Schools," said board President John Kantner, "but at the end of the day, local funding of schools in the state is according to what the majority rules and the people spoke, telling us to do what we can with what we have. At this point, we’re pretty much down to the state minimum."

Changes made in February of this year affected classified staff, especially in the transportation, custodial, and maintenance areas.

Superintendent Kimberley Miller-Smith said the reductions were made after much consideration of the district’s present financial situation, the need to have a positive cash balance, and planning for future crises should no new money be realized by the district in the near future.

Seven years have passed since voters last approved new operating money, although, on average, 211 students are added to district rolls every year. A 4.9 mill operating levy was defeated at the polls in 2006 and a 7.9 mill levy was turned down by voters in November. The 8.9-mill continuing operating levy was defeated by 166 votes on March 4.

"When looking at state required minimums, no high school busing is required whatsoever," said Miller-Smith, "and (the state) only requires those two miles out to be bused to school. The revised code requires a 1 to 25 ratio for kindergarten to fourth grade and we will see an increase in student-teacher ratio. We were projecting to hire five and a half positions, but we’re only hiring one. These have been difficult cuts to make, difficult decisions. This is where we are today and we will continue to look for ways to reduce expenses."

As a direct result of action taken by the board to reduce expenses and balance the budget, the five eliminated teachers included a high school vocational education instructor; two Indian Trail teachers; a Winchester Trail fourth grade instructor; and  a middle school teacher. They will all be out of work at the end of the school year.

"I don’t think we’ve ever had to RIF (reduction in force) anyone before," said Kantner. "These are not projected positions. These are current staff members who have lost their jobs."

One administrative position-director of operations-was eliminated at a savings of more than $131,800. However, Miller-Smith said, at this point, the board does not expect to make other personnel cuts in certified or classified staff.

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