Pike County R-III School District is facing the prospect of another round of budget cuts.
The school board is planning at least one and possibly multiple special public meetings of the school board before the next regularly scheduled school board meeting on March 18, according to Board President Bob Danuser.
Last year, the district, which includes Clopton High School, cut staff and went to a four-day school week in an effort to shore up its financial position. Now it appears that new cuts will be necessary, according to Superintendent Mark Harvey. In an email to the Louisiana Press-Journal last week, Harvey said he would provide the exact size of the shortfall “as soon as we get our data compiled.”
The district has faced financial challenges for at least a decade, especially since Holcim cement plant in Clarksville closed. In the year the closure was announced, the plant provided more than $500,000 to the school district, according to contemporary reporting by the Louisiana Press-Journal.
Danuser said that the combination of an anemic tax base and a smaller student body put Clopton in its budget bind.
“Our biggest problem is, we lost Holcim, we don’t have any business coming into the area…. We lost approximately 30 students. That adds into the calculation. That’s where we’re at right now,” Danuser said.
Danuser cautioned that an apparently positive top-line number in an audit of the district’s finances presented at the Tuesday, Feb. 19 school board meeting — financial reserves that had grown from the previous year’s report — included one-time payments from a handful of sources. That number, Danuser said, did not reflect the district’s full financial position.
Harvey said the district would be “creative” when looking for ways to save money, looking for savings on infrastructure spending and exploring options including online classes and distance learning.
But further cuts to staff would have to be “on the table,” Harvey said.
The districts would have to keep in mind that degradation in the terms of employment for current teachers — like the pay freezes the district sometimes resorted to in the past — could reduce the ability of the district to retain teachers, Harvey added.
Another approach to the problem would be an increased tax levy.
“I think we have to show taxpayers that we’ve made every pos sible cut that we can without hurting the education and then at that point say, hey, we just don’t have the money. If you want to maintain what you have, you’re going to have to raise the tax. I don’t think that will go over good, that’s my personal opinion,” Danuser said.
School board member Tommy Beauchamp said he was waiting to see the numbers that would demonstrate the district’s needs for cuts. Any additional cuts would put the district in a difficult position, Beauchamp said.
“We made some very substantial cuts last year. I feel like we’re pretty much almost at rock bottom, as far as I’m willing to go. Our class sizes are bigger than I would like. I don’t know where they’re going to get it, I really don’t,” Beauchamp said. “As a taxpayer, we all pay a lot of taxes, and I certainly don’t want them to go up. I think everything has to be on the table.”
At a meeting of the school board last Tuesday, teachers and members of the public expressed concerns about the level of staffing and additional budget cuts at Clopton.
English teacher Amanda Henderson laid the history of cuts at the school, culmi- nating in last year’s layoffs, in a prepared statement to the board.
“Now, not even a full year later, the conversation comes to more cuts to more jobs,” Henderson said. “You’ll be depriving your students of opportunities and experiences that make this life richer. You will risk the overall quality of education which your child receives, because your teachers, who have already given so much of their blood, sweat, tears, time, sleep, energy, do not have any more to give.”
“Please consider other alternatives or, if we cannot find any alternatives, please allow us one year to mourn, to grieve, to plan, so we can figure out how to carry on,” Henderson added.
During his own remarks at the board meeting, High School Principal Larry Lagemann expressed concerns about the abil- ity of the school to fill the schedules of high school students as staffing levels decreased.
According to master schedules referenced by Lagemann, the school had been able to offer 44 elective courses in the 2000-2001 school year. In the current school year, the school offers 24.
“It’s really becoming difficult to fill students schedules. We find ourselves forcing students to take some courses they don’t want or they don’t need. Providing electives is a concern of mine. Class size, not only the number of students but the physical size of the classroom,being able to accommodate the number of students, is something I have a major concern with. So we just really need to take into consideration all those options,” Lagemann said.