Michael D. Clark reports
When Lakota students start next school year, they will see fewer teachers, staff specialists and have fewer course options, thanks to about $10.5 million in sweeping budget cuts approved Monday night by the district’s school board.
The Lakota board voted to accept some of the deepest budget reductions in the 18,000-student district’s 55-year history. The district is running out of money after voters have rejected three tax hikes in two years.
The board votes brings an end to a rare string of public discussions on hundreds of details in the five budget-cutting plans – pre-school, kindergarten and elementary, junior and senior high, athletics and district-wide operations – brought to the board in the last two months by Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia.
“It saddens all of us that we have to face these issues,” Mantia told an audience of more than 200 residents and school employees in Lakota East High School’s auditorium, “but we are not the federal government, and we can not spend more money than we bring in.” she said.
The cuts in Ohio’s seventh-largest school system will include 141 teaching, classroom specialist, school nurse and school staff positions, and nine school and central office administrators. Also downsized is the amount of time students will have for arts, music and physical education activities; class periods for high school students; and the number of graduation credits required, from 21 to 20.
Lakota officials simultaneously introduced a new core curricular program designed to help meet tougher pending state standards. Officials have contented that the reduced times in arts, music and gym classes will allow for more instruction in core subjects.
Longtime Lakota parent Lisa Babcock criticized the board for shrinking the learning options for her children. She has already taken some of her kids out of Lakota for private schools and may soon remove all her children due to this latest round of budget cuts.
“I know things are going to get worse,” said Babcock.
The board voted on each reduction proposal separately, and the closet margin was a 3-2 vote, with members Julie Shaffer and Joan Powell opposing the out-sourcing of Lakota’s pre-school program to Butler County’s Head Start program.
Details on the budget reduction plans can be found at www.lakotaonline.com/budget.
Lakota officials said the $10.5 million in reductions for 2012-13 will balloon to nearly $11 million due to increased payments for unemployment compensation and severance pay.
Lakota’s annual operating budget is $154 million. The district faces a projected budget shortfall of $14.1 million in 2015.