Cincinnati Enquirer’s Michael D. Clark reports:
Preschool programs in Lakota Schools could be merged with county programs, school officials announced Monday evening as they unveiled the first phase of $9 million in budget cuts.
The proposed joint venture with Butler County Educational Service Center (ESC) would save about $1.2 million of the target $9 million in savings Lakota officials have said is needed for next school year.
The merger would affect an estimated 288 preschool students in Lakota’s three early childhood education buildings and would eliminate 17 classroom jobs for the 2012-13 school year, Lakota officials said during a work session of the school board.
Preschool annual tuition would remain at $2,025 per student under the proposal.
Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia warned that the other phases of budget cuts will also reduce jobs. Those categories are grades 7-12; elementary grades; administration; district-wide personnel; business and extracurricular programs.
“It’s inevitable that layoffs will occur … there is simply no way around it,” said Mantia. “We have an immediate and urgent crisis.”
Lakota voters rejected three levies from 2010 to 2011, the most recent in November.
Lakota’s annual operating budget is about $154 million, and the district faces a $14.1 million projected deficit in 2015 without voter approval of a new operating tax in 2012.
Board members took no action on the proposed merger but plan to vote next month after gathering public input about the plan. Officials made the reduction plan available for public review on Lakota’s web site at www.lakotaonline.com.
People can review the plan and e-mail questions and comments to district officials as part of a new approach, they said, in engaging residents.
The unusual rollout of reductions in phases is unlike past years’ practices and is designed to allow for more public discussion on each phase, said officials.
Lakota school parent Jay Brune said he liked the approach.
“At least it seems like they are looking at opinions of residents instead of making decisions all on their own. I hope it helps with the levy,” said Brune.
But resident Rich Hoffman, head of the NoLakota anti-school tax group that helped defeat the last three tax hikes, said the board should focus on cutting labor costs instead of impacting the quality of student programs.
“We’ve already told them how to reduce costs by approaching the labor force and telling them to cut their pay by 5 percent,” he said.
Last year Lakota did re-open its labor contract with its 1,132 teachers and renegotiated a new pact that for the first time in Lakota’s 55-year-history saw teachers take an across-the-board pay freeze but also a hold on all individual “step increases,” except for those who add to their educational credentials.
Teachers also agreed to concessions that could see the amount teachers pay for health coverage rise to 15 percent of the cost for their individual plan by the pact’s third year.
Mantia said as more phases of the budget cuts are developed “there is nothing off the table.”