Humboldt, Lake Contrary Closures Top Possible SJSD Budget Cuts

Closing two elementary schools would save the district $4 million annually. Right now they face a budget deficit of anywhere from $7-8.5 million for next year.

Posted: Nov 30, 2017 11:25 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2017 9:33 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Humboldt and Lake Contrary Elementary Schools would be closed as part of a budget cutting plan discussed by the St. Joseph School District Board of Education Thursday night.

During a more than 3 1/2 hour meeting, board members looked at a variety of ways to cut anywhere from $7-8.5 million to balance the budget for the 2018-19 school year.

District administrators say closing the two elementary schools would save $4 million annually. The move would also include a plan to move 6th graders from all elementary schools into the four St. Joseph middle schools.

Reducing the number of elementary schools in St. Joseph has been a part of a long-range facilities plan since 2012. However, the district's current budget woes have pressed the issue to the forefront. At some point, administrators say the ideal goal would be to have 12 elementary schools in the district, four middle schools and two high schools.

"I think tonight you saw there's a consensus towards closing those schools," said board member Tami Pasley. "In my mind I think it was kind of mandated by the vote on November 7."

Three weeks ago St. Jospeh voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to increase the tax levy for the school district by a 72-28 margin. That, in part, has led to the budget crisis.

Other possible budget cuts discussed included reducing the amount the district pays for employees' health insurance by $100 per month. That cut would save approximately $1.25 million yearly. Another cut proposed would be the elimination of four administrator positions, saving $615,000 per year.

The district's athletic programs could also be targeted. The elimination of middle school athletics would save $200,000 yearly and a pay-to-play option requiring a fee for participation in high school athletics would be worth $150,000.

The options were part of a long list of possible cuts totalling more than $9.3 million. Board members have until December 11 to prioritize their list of cuts and come to a consensus.

"I take this so personal because as I look at each item that we've discussed tonight, I can take it right down how it is going to affect the student in the classroom," Pasley said.

The amount of cuts needed to balance the budget is a question itself. The board must first need to decide whether they will give raises to staff next year or freeze salaries for 2018-19. Should they decide to set pay at the same rate as this year, the board will need to make $7 million in cuts. However, if they vote to give raises, that budget deficit balloons to $8.5 million.

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Warm air is in place over northeast Missouri and northeast Kansas on Thursday. Temperatures made it into the lower 50's on Thursday with light winds across the mid west. A pool of cold air is up to the north of the area and will head our way. The cold front will work its way through the region Thursday night with cooler weather behind it for the end of the week.
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