More than 100 people turned out at the Northeastern administration building Monday to debate proposals to balance the district's 2013-14 budget.
Most people who spoke said they would pay higher taxes if it meant preserving the two largest programs on the chopping block -- full-day kindergarten and the high school pool.
They urged the district to look for savings anywhere they can be found.
"There have got to be things we can cut before we take things away from the children," said Jeff Wilt, pastor of Saginaw Community Church.
Residents were responding to word that the list of possible cuts proposed to balance the district's $57.8 million budget for next year include reducing kindergarten from full to half days, closing the high school swimming pool, trimming or eliminating programs and charging activity fees for sports and after-school programs.
The district must eliminate a $2 million deficit by Feb. 20 without raising property taxes above the .55-mill limit. A higher tax increase would be possible if the board rescinded a motion it made earlier this month and sought permission from the state to exceed the limit.
"I believe sports and education go together," said James Peratino, who also said he doesn't mind higher taxes. "I know my son's grades are better when he's in sports."
He said the district should find a way to make the pool "revenue-generating rather than a
Charles McCollum, a physical education teacher, said that about 25 students from grades 2 through 12 turn out on their own at 5:45 a.m. each day to swim, dive or follow a physical rehabilitation plan. Sometimes students help McCollum or teach others how to swim.
He said such efforts may not "show up on a spreadsheet" but "we know the pool is being used."
Brian Geller, director of operations, Monday gave the board a new option to preserve kindergarten and keep the pool open by raising taxes above the index.
Geller acknowledged that the district residents already pay the highest property taxes in the county, but said each mill of tax raises less revenue than other districts since there is less commercial development in the district.
However, the board took no action Monday. The next opportunity to settle the issues is 7 p.m. next Monday in the board meeting room.
Board member William Gingerich said he supports keeping both kindergarten and the pool as they are now. On kindergarten, he said, "I think we lose too much if we go back to half-day."
President Margie Walker said the decisions are painful. During the 15 years she's been on the board, the district has taken some steps forward, but now it seems that work is being undone, she said.
She asked the audience whether voters in the district would support a higher tax increase if the question were put on the ballot.
K. Mike Redding said he's heard from people who can afford a tax increase and those who can't. He noted the average household income in the district is about $44,000, and the board is running out of options.
"The low-hanging fruit is gone, the high-hanging fruit is gone," he said. "We're down to the rotten fruit."
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