Parents question Talawanda cost-cutting plan at lively school board meeting

Talawanda High School principal Scott Davie and assistant principal Rebekah Butz present a cost-cutting plan to the Talawanda School Board.

Photo by Alex Lavine

Talawanda High School principal Scott Davie and assistant principal Rebekah Butz present a cost-cutting plan to the Talawanda School Board.

By Alex Lavine

At the Talawanda School Board meeting Feb. 23, one parent after another expressed concern about the impact a proposed $5.4 million cost-cutting plan would have on their children’s’ mental health.

Switching schools every few years and the cutting of key programs like art, music and physical education were what parents said was their biggest worry. The plan would have all the districts’ students of a particular grade attend the same school building.

At the meeting, Talawanda High School Principal Scott Davie and Vice Principal Rebekah Butz presented details of the cost-cutting proposal, which was triggered by the defeat of a new tax levy by voters in November.

Davie emphasized the importance of cutting expenses immediately, while also bringing back key programs that are set to be cut.

“This proposal would save an immediate $600,000, which is exactly what we need when we are forced to cut $5.4 million over the next few years,” Davie said. “We are also aiming to bring back big things like music, art, PE, prom and homecoming.”

School board president Pat Meade said the proposal will not be voted on until March.

“I don’t think we’re going through with it right now,” Meade said. “We are in deficit spending but want to keep as many programs as possible at this time.”

Superintendent Ed Theroux said he and the board are also developing a three-year proposal addressing buses. He said that he met with the company that provides Talawanda’s buses and determined that switching to a “one-tier” bus system would save $200,000.

This would involve ending busing for high school students and only providing transportation to younger students who live more than two miles away from their school. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade would ride the same buses at the same time.

One parent complained about the possibility of their kindergartener sharing a long bus ride with a middle schooler.

“I have already had my kid come home crying about hearing vulgar language in school,” the parent said. “I can only imagine what she’ll be exposed to on these buses.”

Ted Caudill, a member of the Talawanda Educators’ Association, said the organization amassed 95 signatures on counterproposal.

“Neighborhoods should have value,” Caudill said. “We need to keep our kids near their neighborhoods as well as institute community forums. A change cannot happen in time for next year.”

Oxford resident and parent Amy Shaiman also urged the board to proceed carefully.

“This is a huge change for our students, especially the young ones,” she said. “We need research and not just go off of our gut feelings and guesses.”

As a result of the financial crisis, the board voted to lay-off a clerk and an assistant secretary at the high school, and switched two administrative employees from full-time to 80%. The board also voted to renew superintendent Ed Theroux’s contract for five years.

Hanover Township resident Mike Dittman used his three minutes on the podium to address the superintendent’s contract extension.

“This should’ve been handled by [Theroux] years ago when it was first noticed,” he said. “Now we’re rewarding him with a five-year renewal for creating our debt.”

Meade ended the proposal talks by telling citizens that some families will benefit while others don’t, and that the community needs to be strong.

“Some families will suffer more than others,” Meade stated. “Budget cuts never help everyone.”