What can Northeastern School District live without?

After school board members heard proposals Tuesday to trim kindergarten from full to half days, close the high school swimming pool, trim or eliminate programs and find new revenues by charging activity fees for sports and after-school programs, it came down to that key question.

Northeastern School District officials are seeking the least painful way to erase an expected $2 million deficit in the district's draft $57.8 million budget for 2013-14, and administration presented a plan to deliver a balanced budget without raising property taxes above the 0.55 mill limit.

Asst. Supt. Shawn Minnich, who will become the superintendent July 1, urged board members to think about what they want the district to look like in three or four years.

"The economy is cyclical, it will come back," he said.

Officials also reminded the board that rejecting any of the proposed cuts means the district must look elsewhere for cost savings. Drawing on the $1.9 million fund balance doesn't seem to be an option, since the district's fund balance is already below state recommended levels, said Brian Geller, director of operations.

But board members didn't find any of it easy to swallow.

"Almost everything we've done to move the district forward, we're undoing," said President Margie Walker.

Board member Linda Morningstar said that of all the proposals, reducing kindergarten to half days is "probably the most painful thing to me.


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"I feel very strongly that we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we go back to half-day kindergarten," she said.

Minnich said recent studies have shown that kindergartners who attend full days outperform students who went through half-day programs, a point echoed by several kindergarten teachers in attendance.

Board member Kevin Gebhart said he agreed that kindergarten is "very valid" but said that districts are not required to provide it.

"What can we eliminate? What we're not required to provide," he said.

On the proposal to close the high school pool, officials noted it would not eliminate all water-based activities such as the swimming and diving teams. But it would mean paying for the use of another pool and transporting students to and from an offsite facility, said board member Vanessa Snell.

Increasing the cost of participating in sports and after-school activities would push more costs onto parents who would be paying participation fees and ticket prices, buying snack bar food and supporting booster-club fundraising, Walker said.

At least one board member, Chris Neiman, seemed to favor the idea of asking the state for exceptions that would allow taxes to be raised above the Act 1 limit, as an alternative to the cuts.

Often, discussions ranged into ideas for reigning in future costs. Officials said that proposals such as closing Mount Wolf Elementary or the administration building in Manchester are long-term ideas that have nothing to do with the current budget deficit. Geller said that Mount Wolf would remain open for the coming school year.

Ideas for raising revenues

Northeastern school officials are considering numerous ideas for raising revenues, including:

  • charging students who can afford it an activity fee to participate in sports or other after-school activities. With more than 600 students participating in sports alone from grades 7-12, a $50 fee would raise more than $30,000. A financial hardship waiver would be available to qualifying students;

  • raising ticket and season pass prices for home athletic contests at the high school, and charging for admission at middle school basketball and volleyball games - for example, a $1 increase in the price of tickets would raise an additional $16,000;

  • move junior high football games to the stadium and charge for admission - a move that could raise about $2,500. 

    Proposed cuts

    Proposed expense cuts include:

  • not contributing $100,000 toward the eventual replacement of artificial turf at the stadium;

  • cutting the school year from 181 days to the state minimum of 180 days, saving $142,000;

  • reducing kindergarten from full-day to half-day would save $500,000; but factoring in the roughly $100,000 cost of creating six to eight new mid-day bus runs brings net savings closer to $400,000;

  • closing the Aquatics Center at the high school would yield an estimated $204,818 in savings;

  • proposed "program elimination and curtailment" affecting four staff positions would trim an estimated $221,476. Officials have not disclosed details.

    What's next

    Northeastern's finance committee will continue the budget talks 7 p.m. Monday in the administration building, 41 Harding St., Manchester.