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Future in the budget balance

Photo illustration by Katie Maxwell

RB's Fine Arts Department will not be hosting a Fall Play or Spring Musical, though the community will offer a Fall performance on the stage.

Katie Maxwell, Media Editor

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Ever since the referendum failed last spring, the RB community has known that major changes would be made to the school and its budget. The largest cut in the budget came from teaching salaries which were reduced by $1.2 million. Other prevalent cuts were made to the drama department, which lost about 88% of its total budget, and the entire SEE Team. A whole array of other budget cuts were also implemented affecting sports, clubs, and smaller programs. Despite these reductions in the budget, the school is still operating with a deficit of $920,079 and the school will have to pull from its reserves to make up for this loss.

In an interview with Board President Matt Sinde, the Clarion asked him the following questions: Will there be a referendum this year? If so, will it be the same amount of money this year as last year? If not, what are the board’s strategies to maintain RB’s high standards? How does the board feel about the negative response from the community?

In response, Sinde said, “We will not have a referendum this year.” He also said that maintaining the school’s high standards “is a key priority” to ensure balance between financial responsibility and providing the students with a wonderful education. The lack of funds will cause this to be a challenging goal, but the board will be as “transparent as possible” and encourage “input from all stakeholders” as they begin the process of developing a new budget.

 Sinde does not believe that the community is opposed to helping the school. The community has shown through their vote on the past referendum that they believe the school can still provide a great education to the students without having to raise taxes.

With these thoughts in mind, the question is what will happen next? How will the school move forward? What direction will the board take to solve the budget crisis and how will they remain transparent throughout this process?

One avenue, having another referendum, is obviously not possible this year. The board has decided that their time would be better spent looking for other methods of funding. If the school were to propose a referendum question, it would have already begun the process. Sinde said, “In order to have a successful referendum you must be able to have enough time to educate the taxpayer which would require approximately 6-8 months.”

Another very unlikely possibility is renegotiating with the teachers and their union. Their contracts are not up for renegotiation until 2013, thus leaving salaries and stipends nonnegotiable.

Although the teachers are bound to the terms of their contracts, they are still committed to providing their students with the best education possible. Some have even resorted to creatively interweaving programs they used to run through a club into their curriculum. Bridget Wilmot, an English teacher, used to sponsor the literary magazine, Facets. Now that it has been cut from the budget, Wilmot said, “I don’t feel there’s as much of a creative outlet for students.” She has decided to allow activities, such as a wall full of students’ secrets and National Novel Writing Month to become open to the entire school rather than only her classes as a way to fill the void that she feels was left by its cut from the budget. Darel Gaser and Jeanne Sheehan, who were the directors of the school plays and musicals, also felt that they should create a program for the many students devastated by the large deductions from the drama budget. The result is a musical called, Lil’ Abner, which will be performed this fall at RB. The school will not support the production, but will supply the stage and equipment.

The school may also receive an $8.9 million grant from the state. If the school is awarded the grant money from the state, how will that money be utilized? Would that money allow a few clubs or sports to remain uncut or would it go towards the upkeep of the building? In an interview with Kevin Skinkis he said, “the goal would be to try to offset some of our financial difficulties, address some of the areas [in construction] that need to be fixed, and then look at our educational programs.” Hopefully by offsetting the school’s financial needs, some activities might be saved. Unfortunately, the likely hood of the state awarding the grant to the school is so slim that the school has to plan on not getting it.”

The option the board will most likely choose is continuing the budget cuts. Last year’s school board proposed an extensive plan that would cut most extracurriculars and many teachers over a two year period. This plan was available on the school’s website, but has been recently taken down without an explanation. This lack of explanation causes people to wonder about how much the board is willing to reveal as they decide the future of RB. Not having access to the plan also leads people to wonder if the board will continue the two year plan implemented by the previous board or if will it develop its own system?

RB’s future is resting on the leadership of its board and administration. The community relies on them to make difficult decisions and to instill confidence, but many are entirely new to this process. Skinkis is in his first year as superintendent. Pam Bylsma is in her second year as principal. Four out of the seven board members are in their first year. This group has their work cut out for them.

1 Comment

One Response to “Future in the budget balance”

  1. Diane Hettasch on November 1st, 2011 3:41 pm

    Beautifully written, informative article! I especially liked that you mentioned the Drama Club and the involvement of Darel and Jeanne who, on their own, organized a Fall musical for RB students who were devastated by the loss of referendum. Thank you for recognizing these 2 individuals for their motivation ,energy and dedication to our community!

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Future in the budget balance