WARRENSBURG - In a controversial split decision, school board members voted to adopt a 2009-2010 budget that would cut personnel and administration posts while downsizing a few programs.
The $19.3 million spending plan would cut four teaching positions, axe an elementary Dean of Discipline post, downsize instruction in Summer School, eliminate Driver's Education as a school-year offering, but provide a .93 percent decrease in tax levy for property owners.
Citizens attending the meeting aired opposition to the board's decision.
"I'm very disappointed - I've attended a lot of school board meetings, and I've heard a lot of people speak out in favor of programs you've eliminated," Denise Foster said. "I'm feeling we've been disregarded - Now if we vote this budget down, you will make more cuts, so you've actually shut us up."
School Board members Dean Moore, John McGlire and Laura Danna voted against the budget, which will go up for a public vote May 19. Also expressing opposition - via a written statement - was Board member Melissa Thomas, who was not present.
She and others also objected to a budget meeting that was held during Spring vacation with minimal public notice.
Danna said she opposed budget as finalized because it would diminish the school's core programs, which ran counter to the board's earlier agreement.
"These cuts are going way too deep, and will effect the community in the long run," she said. "Let's listen to the taxpayers who have stated their position - We have a responsibility to the children to help them become successful, productive members of our community."
Her comments, including mention of petitions presented to the board, were met with rousing applause from the large audience present at the meeting. District resident Paul Weick presented a petition, signed by 49 residents, requesting that no substantial personnel or program cuts be made.
The personnel cuts call for eliminating a high school Science position, one high school English position, a Special Education post, and a Driver's Education post.
The elimination of the science position, now held by William McGinn who was granted retirement effective June 30, will eliminate 7th Grade Advanced Placement Science as a separate course. Those students who would have taken the course will now join the regular 8th grade science course, High School Principal Doug Duell said.
The position cut would also mean the remaining Science teachers would teach six classes per day instead of five.
Teachers' Union representative Mark Mularz said he opposed the cuts, particularly the Science post.
"This will have a huge impact on the program," he said.
The union didn't accept school board attempts to negotiate reopening the existing multi-year teachers' work contract, which provides raises for WCS teachers.
Board members had warned months ago that if the teachers didn't accept a pay freeze, positions would likely be cut.
Warrensburg Resident Carol Birkholz, chair of the Warren County Conservative Party, said she opposed the cuts.
"If you promote good quality education the town will grow, which will lower everybody's taxes," she said. "This negativity, which continues to divide the community, may end up raising taxes for local citizens."
No one from the audience, which included dozens of teachers, spoke in favor of the board's budget. But board president Tom Yarmowich said the board members had received many letters calling for cuts in spending.
"This is consistent with reality for similar districts," he said, adding that the new budget represented progress in achieving fiscal responsibility.
Board member Brian Lace offered stronger words.
"The economy is spiraling downward, and if we didn't make cuts, we'd have a catastrophic situation."
This 2009-2010 budget, as well as two board seats go up for public vote May 16.
Art teacher Pat Sullivan asked the board to inform the public how they'd interpret a "No" vote from the public - whether the board would respond by making deeper cuts, or restore programs and personnel in line with the sentiments expressed at the meetings. Yarmowich didn't answer Sullivan, but to say the board would decide.
Yarmowich then cut off public comment, and the board went behind closed doors to discuss a personnel issue.
Outside the closed doors, local resident Jim Carrion, a retired police officer, said why he was running against Yarmowich May 16 for his seat on the board.
"The community has been divided by this budget process, and I want to get the board and the community back together again," he said.
A second board seat is also open, with Melissa Thomas choosing not to run again. Beth Callahan and Harry Rafferty are running for Thomas' seat, Yarmowich announced.
In other business, granted tenure at the Monday meeting were Secondary English teachers Michelle Guldersleeve and Meredith Amberger, Elementary Music Teacher Matthew Dickson, and Primary Remedial Reading Teacher Karen Luyk. Also granted tenure were District Business Manager Kevin Polunci and Elementary Principal Amy Langworthy, a Warrensburg Graduate in the 1980s.
Langworthy's appointment decision was greeted with rousing cheers from the audience.
In addition to William McGinn, retirement was granted to Secondary A.I.S. Math teachers Nancy Hill and Robert Brown, and 5th Grade Elementary Teacher Gerald Howe.
Teacher Eric Egan, who had instructed the Driver's Education program for decades, also was granted retirement, although sources close to Egan said he had sought to remain at Warrensburg High teaching the course.
High School Assistant Principal Steve Nolan reported that discipline problems had declined dramatically so far this year, with 145 total suspension incidents occurring.
The annual budget hearing in Thurman is to be held at 7 p.m. May 4 in the Thurman Town Hall, and the hearing in Warrensburg is set for 7 p.m. May 11 in the high school cafetorium.