"SCHOOL SYSTEM IN REAL CRISIS" - Enrollment Down, More Reductions, Levy Proposed


Blankenship said "It's been getting tougher every year"

By Bob Weaver

Keeping Calhoun Schools operating was a major topic at the Calhoun Board of Education meeting earlier this month.

That issue was discussed last night at a public meeting at CMHS with the board contemplating the placing of a levy on the November ballot to raise operational funds.

Only a handful of parents attended the meeting.

School officials said the problem has been building for several years, but crunch time is here.

The loss of student enrollment and its direct link to funding is creating what some are calling an administrative nightmare.

The state has declined to alter the funding formula for small rural counties, a measure long promoted by school superintendent Ron Blankenship.

County school enrollment has dropped 342 pupils since the new $16 million Calhoun-Middle High School opened in 1998-1999. Enrollment has dropped 555 students since school year 1984-85.

Average grade size in K-4 is about 70 students total (both Arnoldsburg and Pleasant Hill), a red flag for decreasing numbers coming to CMHS.

Superintendent Blankenship said the system could lose 75 students during school year 2004-05, down to 1,140. With state aid set at $4,392 per pupil, that adds up to a projected loss of $329,000.

That would mean at least five professionals and three more service personnel would lose their jobs during the school year.

"Since 1999 we have cut 14 service personnel, including para-professionals, bus drivers and custodians and 19 teachers and professionals," he said.

Cutting jobs is not the only problem.

At risk is being able to fund academic programs at the required level and support extra-curricular activities like music, art and sports.

Blankenship said $61,000 is needed for supplements to support such activities.

Band Director Harry Beall said "I'm really scared we're going to completely lose our band and sports programs because of cuts," he also said music programs need to become a part of the daytime curriculum.

Teacher Linda Jarvis concurred, saying "I want to see the band continue for our kids."

"I'm an arts teacher whose budget was reduced to $500 for the whole year," said Jo Mollendick. "I often have to buy supplies out of my own pocket."

She concluded by saying "I think the school system is in a real crisis."

Arlis Miller asked Blankenship what the future held regarding consolidation of the last two elementary schools (Pleasant Hill and Arnoldsburg). "I wouldn't venture a guess," said Blankenship, who said there is no mandatory number to keep elementary schools open. "It may not happen for years."

Board member Rick Fitzwater said "Schools still have to be cleaned and maintained," commenting on cutting service personnel.

Blankenship said if taxpayers approve an operating levy, the money would be directed toward funding teachers and service personnel, although the money would also be directed toward keeping programs and activities alive.

"Supplies and copying are big costs," he said, in addition to supplementing student transportation and maintenance.

Blankenship told board members earlier this month he did not want to threaten parents and taxpayers over what could happen if an operating levy did not pass, but the situation is serious.

The current bond which county taxpayers approved to expand the new school's facilities expires in 2012.

A decision to place an operating levy on the November ballot will be made at the August 23rd board meeting.