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GC Board of Education Adopts 2010-11 Budget

Residents Heading to the Polls May 18

After months of lengthy work sessions, the Garden City Board of Education officially adopted the 2010-11 budget during a meeting on Monday, April 19. The total budget is $98,275,256, with a budget-to-budget increase of $3,059,669 (or 3.21 percent). The public will go the polls on May 18 to vote on the proposal, which has a projected 4.52 percent tax levy increase (with STAR).

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen offered a word of thanks to the community for its suggestions and feedback on the budget. He stated that up until he left his office for the meeting, he was still receiving suggestions, emails and comments from the public. “I appreciate that very much. It really helps shape our understanding of the community interest and community priorities,” he said, adding “I particularly want to thank the board of education for its commitment for putting the very best budget together possible, under these very difficult circumstances,” he said. He also thanked the board of education for helping him formulate his initial budget and suggestions for adjustments to better align with the district’s core priorities. “You’ve gone over it line by line and whatever the outcome in May, I think the school district is better for it, so, thank you for all that attention, investigation and for the due diligence that accompanied this very, very difficult and lengthy process this year,” he stated.

Dr. Feirsen also wanted to address a few misconceptions he had heard over the past few days to make sure everyone is “on the same path.” He went on to say that “the budget proposal as currently stands before the board does, in fact, ask for the elimination of the science specialist at the elementary level; however, that does not mean that the science program disappears at the elementary level. Science is one of our core subjects, we have no intentions of eliminating it. In fact, it will continue to be delivered by the person who always had the primarily responsibility for delivering that program, which is the classroom teacher,” he said. Dr. Feirsen said that students only saw the science specialist about once every two weeks. “We hope to continue the same dynamic program; we are looking forward to enhancing it at the elementary level with the same kinds of hands-on activities and the use of the labs. So, none of that necessarily disappears,” Dr. Feirsen stated.

Also clarified was the issue of eliminating the JVB teams, which is a subject brought up by many parents at previous budget meetings. “Similarly, we are proposing the elimination of the JVB teams, but not junior varsity totally. There’s still many junior varsity teams that will continue to operate and continue to function. So, I think that’s an important understanding, it’s only the four JVB teams that are proposed for elimination,” Dr. Feirsen stated.

Lastly, Dr. Feirsen addressed a recent misconception from letters and emails he has received that Garden City School District has 70 administrators. “In fact, we don’t have 70, we have about 35 administrators,” Dr. Feirsen said. He said they include positions you don’t normally have in that category, for example, the director of transportation; the director of school lunch program; and the director of technology network.

Dr. Feirsen also stated that the budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 18. While parents are at the polls, he said, primary students will also have an opportunity to vote for the snacks they will have during field day. Computers will record the vote, which was very successful last year. In addition, the school district is inviting residents to do an exit poll after the vote. Dr. Feirsen stated that all polls are done on a voluntarily basis and are anonymous. He also stated that the new exit poll initiative will help the board of education get a better idea of how the community received the vote, where they got the information from and what was the most effective way in getting information out.  

After much public outcry and suggestions from the board, Dr. Feirsen made several restorations to the budget on April 13. The budget now recommends restoration of four elementary classroom teachers and one assistant principal. The budget also calls for the anticipated class size cap to remain at 25 students.

School Board President Colleen Foley asked board members to comment on the budget. School Board Vice President Barbara Trapasso stated that the process was difficult. “This is my sixth budget as a board member and this has certainly been the most difficult. I don’t like to cut or do away with anything. I have things I love to add to programs at the schools. I honestly think this is the best thing we can provide at this time. And I think we tried to be fair to every school and every group that we could. So I am in support of the budget,” she stated.

Laura Brown also voiced her approval for the current budget. “I have to agree with Mrs. Trapasso, where, as much as I don’t want to cut items, it was the necessary evil and I think that it was spread out equitably,” she said, adding “we were able to keep a lot of our core programs and teachers, so I, too, am in support of the budget,” she said.

Angela Heineman offered her comments on the budget process saying that while this budget proposal is not perfect and will not necessarily satisfy all constituents, it was open and fair. “Compromises were made openly; they were made fairly; they were made thoughtfully, and I believe it enables us to remain true to our core principles for educating all of our students and I do support it,” she said. She also encouraged residents to continue to advocate their concerns not just at the local level, but also to approach state and federal representatives because these are areas not within the board’s control.

Laura Hastings stated that she also supports the budget and thanked community members who came forth and expressed their concerns to the board. She stated that the top priority she heard was to find a way to maintain class size standards in the elementary school. “We are restoring four FTEs to the elementary schools to maintain that class size. I feel that was not only my top priority, but the community’s top priority,” she said, adding “I feel terrible that some things had to be cut so that we could restore those four FTEs, but it had to come from someplace,” she said. She said that they are programs that can be restored in different economic times more easily than if you took out other programs that you cannot build back up.

School Board President Colleen Foley was the last to speak. She noted that this was her ninth year in developing a budget. “When I first started on the school board, I thought my first year was my most difficult, I can look back and truly say I think this has been one of the hardest years I have had on the board in meeting the standards and the needs that the community has expressed. I want to thank the community for coming. We’ve had hundreds of people come to school board meetings. I believe we tried to extend meetings as long as possible to listen to every question and opinion that people had,” she said.

She said the board looked at preserving the core programs and protecting the mission statements and the goals of this district. “It is not perfect there, but I do believe that the essential component was met. I think we looked at the economy. That’s important for us to get a budget passed and we had to make some cuts. And I also think we also looked at balance,” she said.

She also spoke about the controversial elimination of the JVB teams, which many parents disapproved of. “I was here when they were put in, and now I am here when some of them are leaving. But just to leave the community with that sense of balance, every team now has one JV team and one varsity team, that’s balance. That’s an example of the standard that we had to apply if we were going to achieve some economy and savings on program,” she said.

She reminded the public that the budget vote is May 18. “I think what this process has emphasized to me, over and over again, is that every part of this budget affects a child. I hope that the community remembers that as they go to vote. There’s not a single part of this that doesn’t affect a program, a child or a part of our system. So, your vote strongly affects the budget so you can extrapolate that every vote does affect a child. I want to encourage everyone to come out and vote,” she said.

During a period for citizens’ questions and comments, one resident spoke out regarding a recent letter to the editor, written in respect to the budget. He stated that the letter writer said to ‘vote no on the budget’ because of the expensive medical and dental that the school district provides its employees. “I know we provide a very, very good health-care benefit. And, I don’t know what more he wants. These people who write ‘vote no,’ on this reason alone has got to be counteractive,” he said.

Foley responded that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. She also encouraged residents to attend the upcoming meetings and get their own information accurately. The board will continue to present information on the budget at a town hall meeting on May 4 at 8 p.m. at Garden City High School. In addition, a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 11 at 8:15 p.m. at the high school. “We’re not looking to bludgeon anybody into voting for this budget. We are looking for you to get accurate information, take it home, decide and come and vote,” Foley stated.