Nearly $1 million cuts proposed, around $600,000 approved

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter

Rockridge Community Unit School District #300 is just like every other school district, battling expenses and waiting for payments from the state.

The district's financial situation is probably less vulnerable than many, as there is a surplus in some of the funds.

After a closed session at Monday's March 8 school board meeting, the board came back and voted "yeah" or "nay" on a number of programs or line items that would slash the 2011 budget by $910,709. The district's fiscal year runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The board agreed to around $629,000 of the cuts, after coming out of closed session for fiscal year 2011.

Some of the big ticket slashes proposed included eliminating the pre-kindergarten program (saving $212,326), which was rejected by the board; eliminating drug testing for $38,000 (approved), holding off on a bus purchase saving $66,290 (approved) and saving around $70,000 by eliminating years three and four of a teacher mentoring program (approved).

There was also a $174,143 savings by reducing four certified staff positions proposed. This item was approved, but the board scheduled another closed session meeting for personnel Monday, March 15, at 6:30 p.m. to determine who will be pink slipped.

"The meeting will then be open to the public with the results," said Superintendent Jack Bambrick.

Another big item was a 20 percent across the board reduction in all supply lines, saving $160,000 (approved). The board learned that as of the end of February the transportation fund is $24,000 below what had been projected.

Unfortunately the district is also $143,000 under on revenue for transportation. "We're waiting for $175,000 for transportation money that was vouchered by the State on Dec. 28, 2009," said Bambrick.

Then there is the Oda B. Shaw fund. That fund had $532,000 last month and $538,000 at the end of February. Unfortunately that fund can only be tapped for scholarships for graduating students.

Bambrick said the district has been fortunate in being able to build up fund balances through the good years. That is what is keeping Rockridge afloat today, but it's not all that good of news. "Its not that we're operating in a good financial situation now," said Bambrick. He said the district must take steps to reduce district costs. "Fund balances can disappear quickly."

"We're a $12 million budget annually."

Architect Bill Phillips gave a report to the Rockridge Board of Education on Monday, March 8, on the Taylor Ridge bus and auto congestion at the elementary school, with recommendations for permanent and temporary fixes.

He talked about a site safety study he had done, showing examples on an overhead projector of the dangers students encounter when leaving and entering buses at the school. Buses are stacked two by two, for a total of six buses, with students walking past cars and between buses when school is over. At times students even load into cars that are parked on Turkey Hollow Road. He called that practice "very severe and unsafe."

Phillips talked about how the district has tried in the past (in 2002 and 2007) to place the parking and driveway situation at Taylor Ridge as a Life Safety issue, to no avail. While the problems have been identified, Phillips said the district found that fixing the problems were cost prohibitive in 2007.

He offered two possible solutions, both of which were estimated at more than the $340,000 cost that was estimated in 2007. This year's suggestions involved using area where the ball diamond north of the school is, to solve part of the problems.

One problem Phillips noted was that when parents come to drop off or pick up students they pulled into the parking lot, and have no smooth way to exit the area other than doing a three-point back-up to exit. This he says is a dangerous situation for students.

Parking was also a problem during special events, such as holiday or music programs.

He said that if the board decided to do one of the plans he came up with, he would put together bid specifications so work could be done in the summer.

A temporary solution would be to put up cones or concrete parking logs to separate where the cars and buses would operate. He also said that additional gravel would be needed as the soil at Taylor Ridge is very soft.

Board president Tim Keller asked the board what their preference was, with a consensus being to direct Phillips to apply again for Life Safety funds for the project.

School Board member Susan Neece asked Phillips if the ball diamond could be moved behind the school if the district could purchase more land.

He said that it would be possible, if there was more land.

Phillips talked about the soil at the school. He said that when the price was estimated several years ago, the material was going to be blacktop. Now they are talking about using gravel. "The amount of the base is one foot to 14 inches for bearing on the soft soil," he said.

He said he would approach the state with a proposal for using life safety funds. "I think the odds are still slim," he said,

Mike Orr, driver's education teacher at Rockridge had a public comment about one of the proposals for saving the district money -- to raise the driver's education fee from $40 to $250. "The $40 fee covers the lab portion of the program," said Orr. Board member Neece said the board had not discussed the prospect of raising the fee yet.

After closed session, the board voted to leave the driver's education program alone.

The board went into executive session to discuss student discipline, personnel and purchase, sale lease of property.

In other business the board:

• Learned that Jordan Gosney, son of Chris and Rich Gosney of Taylor Ridge, was named Milan Area Rotary Student of the Month.

• Approved resignations of Candy Blankenship, junior high athletic director; Jan Schmulbach, effective end of 2010-2011 school year; Teresa Peschang, effective end of 2013-2014 school year; Catherine Voss, effective end of 2013-2014 school year; Jim Nichols, effective end of 2013-2014 school year; Lorene Lund, effective end of 2013-2014 school year;

• Approved facility use agreement with the Junior Football League.