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Budget solutions rest with trustees

Tens of thousands of Americans have lost their jobs since the not-so-Great Recession started showing signs of rearing its ugly head in 2007. The recession has been far more reaching than many could have imagined, and, unless your last name is Gates, Buffett, Bloomberg or Walton, you’ve probably had to make some cutbacks, and chances are highly likely that you or someone you know has lost their job as a direct result of the financial status of our economy.
More job losses are expected in the near future, thanks to an immediate $300 million state education budget cut announced by Gov. Mitch Daniels in December. Reductions-in-force are virtually inevitable in Harrison County schools as well as others throughout the state.
It almost goes without saying that anything our elected school boards can do to keep RIFs from happening and keep continuity in the classroom should be done.
So, it came as a shock to the large crowd in attendance March 2 at Heth-Washington Elementary School when some members of the South Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees nixed a plan that would have saved the corporation $250,000 ‘ almost 1/3 ‘ of the $850,000 it needs to trim from its budget.
Among other moves, the plan proposed by South Harrison Superintendent Dr. Neyland Clark would have sent a co-principal back to the classroom, would have eliminated a principal’s position from either Heth-Washington or New Middletown (since their combined enrollment is close to the same as South Central Elementary’s) and would have added to each administrator’s workload. Employees in the administration office would have had a pair of five-day, unpaid furloughs.
The only caveat to the plan was that the contracts of the administrators ‘ who enter the final years of their contracts this summer ‘ would be extended by one year.
That surely seems fair as long as there’s no increase in pay and if their workload is increased. Asking upstanding, good principals to work harder with absolutely no assurance that this time next year they’d have a job isn’t reasonable, nor is it the right thing to do.
The motion, made by Dr. John Gonzaba, to accept the plan died for a lack of a second. Trustee Larry Hauswald said he wanted to make a second, but he had to abstain because his son, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hauswald, was one of those whose contract would have been extended.
Just a few minutes later, the board shot down a proposal that would have saved $68,677 a year as it eliminated insurance benefits for future board members. Not these trustees, mind you, but ones who haven’t even been elected yet.
The plan on the table was never voted on, but one that Gonzaba proposed ‘ ending insurance for all board members effective Jan. 1 ‘ was squashed 3-4, with Gonzaba, Hauswald and Jeff Brown, who has the most expensive insurance plan at more than $20,000, voting for; and Joyce Bliss (who doesn’t take insurance from SHCSC), Roger Windell, Carol Uesseler and Ray (Radar) Lillpop offering nay votes.
In a span of about 15 minutes, the board went from potentially saving 38 percent of the $850,000 total, to saving a big fat doughnut and having to start from scratch. With the state’s cutbacks costing the corporation $75,000 a month, that’s a shame.
Going with the 2008-09 state average of $49,600 for teaching salaries, the $318,677 total represents about 6.4 teaching jobs that may have been saved but weren’t because board members felt like one year was too much of an extension, and their benefits were worth more than those whose livelihoods are at stake.
True, six jobs may not sound like many, but inevitably there are going to be good people who have the best interest of our children RIF’ed by some members of the board who said they are for our children but did nothing to show it.
If the board members, who are each paid $2,000 a year on top of receiving health insurance, are going to force teachers to be cut, then they, too, need to do something to help the corporation get through the current crisis. Just because you are elected to your position doesn’t make you immune to being part of the solution.