Members of the Grand Island community put a face to the numbers that have been crunched by the School Board in recent weeks, as dozens of residents pleaded Monday night to prevent some of the district's proposed cuts next year from taking effect.
More than 100 town residents packed the Connor Middle School Little Theater to make their feelings known on the 2011-12 proposed spending plan, which features a $3.99 million funding gap that has compelled district leaders to seek relief from all areas.
Along with an undetermined tax rate increase and the utilization of $1.5 million in reserve funds, numerous cuts have been mentioned over the past few weeks as potential remedies. One such possible cut is the closure of the high school pool from mid-March through mid-August, a move that doesn't sit well with Mary West.
"This pool is our only community pool," the East River Road resident said. "A lot of us live on the waterfront, but that water's too dangerous for swimming -- the pool is an institution that's been a part of Grand Island for as long as I can remember."
Shawn Carey, of Spicer Creek Road, presented the signatures of 1,012 residents on a petition that's been circulating to keep the pool open year-round. In addition to the dearth of locations for residents to learn how to swim, he cited the lessons learned in the pool by competitive swimmers, including his son, Evan, who earned a swimming scholarship at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
The pool costs $7,540 per month to maintain, Superintendent Robert Christmann said, so closing it for five months reduces expenditures by $37,700. Jenell Drive resident Judy Link feels that those funds would be well spent keeping the pool open.
"That's not a wasted expense," she said. "That's a community activity -- a healthy community activity."
Where the pool is healthy for the body, other speakers asked the School Board to maintain other programs that are healthy for the mind. Proposed teaching position cuts in the art and music program had several students and parents looking to keep their subjects strong next school year.
"Art isn't just a typical stereotype where it's just someplace to hang out with friends. It's helped me prepare for college," said senior Amanda Sutter, one of several Grand Island students who attended Monday's meeting wearing T-shirts that read, "Art is how I'm smart." If art cuts go through, she said, underclassmen "won't be able to prepare their art portfolios and prepare for their careers as I have."
Parent Lisa Dollendorf, meanwhile, lamented the cuts of two foreign-language teachers that will result in the loss of the seventh-grade Spanish and French classes.
The district's work to date has whittled next year's deficit to $426,000 if the board approves of the cuts that have been proposed by the administration. Christmann raised the possibility of filling any remaining remaining gap with an increase in the tax rate; $277,000 represents a 1 percent increase in the tax rate, he said.
Christmann committed Monday to not taking a pay increase next year. He's still working with the district's unions to find ways to curb contractually obligated salary increases and said that he will present the results of those negotiations during next Monday's meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. and at which the board is expected to finalize the 2011-12 budget.