Who, what, when, where, Y?

Since the proposed tax levy for FHSD did not pass on August 4th, the district is figuring out the next steps that need to be taken.

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On Aug. 4, the Francis Howell School District’s Prop Y was on the ballot, and it lost by 66%. The community’s resounding “no” to the tax increase has been heard, and it is now time for the board of education to make some difficult decisions.

A board meeting was held Thursday, Aug. 6, and seats were filled, people stood in the back, and overflow seats were occupied in the lobby of Central Office. Community members on both side of the issue were in attendance, and tension filled the room. Slurs and insults were uttered from the back of the audience, and members of the board reminded the spectators multiple times to respect one another.

Director Amy McEvoy received an ovation after explaining why she voted no, yet voted to put Prop Y on the ballot. If the levy had failed later on, perhaps in April, it would already be too late to help the district. Since the proposition failed in August, there is time to figure out a plan, as well as a chance to offer a tax levy on a future ballot (because, according to the board, a tax increase in the near future is necessary).

Due to inflation, as well as the nature of living in the 21st century, a tax increase is expected every few years, in order to keep up the quality of the district. The same goes with families at home, as the cost of living now is higher than it was, say, ten years ago.

Many options were discussed, and although nothing is completely out of the question yet, many board members and community members hope to not cut any school buses. The state says FHSD can reduce busing so that it only picks up students who live at least 3.5 miles away. For younger kids especially, walking that far to school could be an issue, especially with the many major streets students live across. If parents weren’t comfortable with letting their children walk, they’d have to provide transportation, which might be difficult if they work during the day.

However, after staff reductions, transportation is the next big ticket item that could save money. It will be up for further discussion, although it is unlikely anything having to do with buses will come into effect for the 2015-16 school year.

Another solution suggested by the board was a four-day work week, although there hasn’t been discussion on that yet with the board. These two options are significant changes, but they may be necessary in the future.

Superintendent Dr. Pam Sloan explained how, since it is still early on, not many decisions have been made yet. There will be another school board meeting Aug. 20  where she will present a budget plan to the board, and some decisions will be made from there.

“The thing we did solidify last night [at the board meeting] is that we’re not going to reduce people,” Dr. Sloan said. “[But] if we don’t do those big things [such as less busing or shorter weeks], that would probably translate into additional reductions of people.”

So for the 15-16 school year, all staff members who already have their contract have a job this year. Next year remains a mystery.

As far as what will be changed this year, Dr. Sloan suggests many alterations will be technologically based, in order to affect the students the least amount possible. This includes not refreshing the computers this year, which they are due for, as well as not expanding the wireless internet to the elementary schools yet. Dr. Sloan also mentioned less to no travel for personal development to train teachers, and not developing curriculum.

Principal Sonny Arnel doesn’t know how our school will be affected directly, as many decisions have yet to be made. He will be attending a principal’s meeting soon, which he imagines will consist of discussion about what each school is able to do. He predicts some programs being cut, such as the retired ACT for sophomores, and similar conveniences that cost money. Neither Dr. Arnel nor Dr. Sloan foresees cuts in clubs, activities, or sports for the upcoming school year.

Dr. Arnel, is relieved, though, that this year won’t see a decrease in teachers.

“Last spring, we reduced our staff in this building a little more than three people, and that’s a lot,” Dr. Arnel said. “To do that now is not practical. Working on the master schedule with a school this size, and with as many course choices as we offer, I just can’t do that.”

As of today, it sounds like students in 2015-16 won’t notice many drastic changes in their school day. Class sizes may be a bit tight, but not unmanageable. In the near future, late August, there will be a better idea of what the district faces going forward. The 2016-17 school year may look very different, but the plan is to have the budget balanced by then.

Dr. Sloan explained that if and when the proposition goes back on the ballot, there needs to be clearer communication between the district and members of the community.

“We need to make sure people are aware of the need,” Sloan said. “If this had passed, this would have only been our second operating increase in 25 years. I don’t think people really realize that.”

In the past, mail was sent to all members of the community to keep them updated on what is going on in the district, and Dr. Sloan believes if we continued that, it would make the communication easier.

“We don’t do a mass mailing to our community, that was something that got cut in a couple of other financial crises previously, that cost about $200,000 to send mail to all of our community,” Sloan described. “Especially for our senior citizens, a hard copy is something they’d appreciate. We need to make sure people are aware of the need.”

Students, teachers, and members of the community can do a couple of things to help. First of all, get informed. It was mentioned by Kevin Supple, Chief Financial Officer, that the board meeting on Aug. 4 was much more populated than in the past, and he used the audience to his advantage. Supple could explain to the community why cutting buses is such an issue, as well as other topics. It would be beneficial to attend more meetings in order to get all the correct information.

Second, start brainstorming. Board member Rene Cope asked for creative ideas from the community, because they are only seven people. Dr. Sloan is also open for suggestions.

“Sometimes kids have the best ideas!” Dr. Sloan said.