School Board member and candidate Tamy Suthwerland-Abbott discusses an issue at the forum Thursday. Candidates discussed issues ranging from reading improvement to taxes. L&T photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The Garden City school district recently cut 27 positions from its staff – all out of its classrooms. Liberal’s school district could be facing as much as $1.6 million in cuts this year due to cuts in the state’s education budget.
Candidates at Thursday’s USD No. 480 Board of Education forum were asked what cuts could be made to Liberal’s budget and if those trims would include teaching positions.
All of the six contenders in attendance agreed that no cuts should be made to local classrooms, and each tried to offer ideas how to condense the money allotment for the district.
Like many of the challengers in the race, incumbent Tammy Sutherland-Abbott said the last place to make cuts is anyone who has direct contact with students.
“If we had to start somewhere, after we’ve trimmed every budget everywhere and took out the excess meat, then we would have to start at the top and go down,” she said. “You cannot take away who has the direct contact with the kids. Ultimately, what we have to remember is our children.”
Crystal Clemens agreed, saying she does not see how a district can cut teachers from its staff.
“I think it would just be really taking a good look at each position and their benefit to the district and can we do without it or do we need it, and go from there,” she said.
Delvin Kinser said he is not yet familiar with how the district’s budget works. For this reason, he was unsure of where to begin with cuts, but he said budget problems need to be looked at in a manner similar to those of households.
“I do know from my own budget at home, when I’ve had to find places to cut, I’ve found them,” he said. “Sometimes, those places might have caused me a little irritation, but in the long run, it’s for my benefit. I would look at it that way with the USD 480 budget.”
Kinser said the district needs to find where excess money is being spent.
“There may be some funds that have been sitting in something that have been overlooked,” he said. “Let’s look there. Let’s turn every nook and cranny over and find where the spending is going, and if we can trim a little here and maybe trim a little money that’s going to a program and still do the program. We can find those places. We just have to look.”
Tony Whisenant said cuts need to be looked at in other areas of the budget before aiming those trims at the teaching staff of USD 480.
“Turning out qualified students into the world is the main objective of education,” he said. “It’s priority one. When you start making your cuts, you need to look around and see where’s the waste and where are the problems.”
Whisenant said problems could be as simple as the district’s maintenance staff.
“Perhaps they’re not maintaining the machinery as well as they should, or you have people utilizing the machinery and causing damage which is costing the school money,” he said. “Look at that. Look at your maintenance costs. Look also at the federal government and their involvement in school, and see how much they may be costing you by their involvement in the school.”
Whisenant said federal regulations are causing the district to use more paperwork and more people. He added some of the district’s classrooms can be used in other ways.
“You’ve got to go around the whole thing and look at it and say, ‘We’ve got to turn out the best product,’ and those are our kids,” he said. “We want them qualified, and we want them to be able to go out into this world and be able to do what they want to. Start from there. Say this is what we need to maintain, and work around it and see what you need to cut in order to keep the budget in line.”
Steve Helm said it is ironic that all of the positions cut in Garden City were teachers and aides and not administrators.
“That tells the story,” he said. “We’ve added two administrative positions by a near unanimous vote of the board. In the past two years, we’ve hired secretarial staff for those two positions.”
The cost of those positions is about $300,000, and Helm questioned if that money could be used to support its educators.
“What have we done for our teachers?” he said. “Those are the people who are in contact with the student. There’s plenty of other programs we can look to cut. There’s an energy program that we’ve spent about $150,000 a year on. When pressed to prove that there’s one MCF of gas or cubic foot of gas or one kilowatt of electricity that can be saved, a report could not be produced. We’ve got to look at every program. We’ve got to look at the dollar programs to the $10 programs to the $100,000 programs.”
Like all on Thursday’s panel, Chris Jewell said positions which have direct contact with students should not be cut.
“Those are the last places you want to cut,” he said. “We’re going to have to look in places and look at some of the programs that maybe need to be cut back here and there.”
Like Kinser, Jewell said he needs to become more familiar with USD 480’s budget, which is around $60 million.
“I’m not going to sit up here and say we’re going to cut this or this or this,” he said. “Nobody wants to make any cuts. Nobody wants to send anybody home without a job especially when it comes to the education of our children.”
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