CEYLON - People still have questions about Fairmont Area Schools' learning levy and they got a chance to ask them at the last of the information meetings Thursday at Ceylon City Hall.
On Nov. 6, voters will be asked to decide if the district should raise its excess levy to $950 per student, up from the existing $500 per student levy, which is set to expire in a year. If the levy fails to pass, the school board already voted unanimously to cut students' co-curricular activities starting with the 2013-2014 school year. That includes high school sports; plays, music and art programs; and academic teams. The savings add up to $754,000 per year.
"It's heart-wrenching for the board to even come and tell people," said Diane Gerhardt, school board member. "It really affects kids."
"All these times we made cuts, we tried to keep it away from the classroom," said Julie Laue, another school board member. "We don't have any more fluff."
"Look at what (area) schools are paying and what Fairmont is paying," said audience member Rod Nelson, referring to Fairmont's current $500 levy, which is the lowest of all the schools in Martin County and the South Central Conference. "It's miraculous you've been able to operate for nine years at $500."
"We either have to raise revenue to balance our budget or reduce expenses," said Gerhardt. "We have to balance the budget; it's a law."
"What will hurt is if you go into statutory operating debt," said audience member Bill Beckendorf. "The state steps in and tells you exactly what you can do."
"Class size will increase," noted audience member Rosemary Rosenburg, a former teacher, adding when too many students are in a classroom, "you do an injustice to the kids."
Indicating the list of activities that will be cut, Rosenburg thought it would affect something besides grades.
"Look at the morale in school if you take these things away," she said. "You'll have the haves and the have-nots."
"These are opportunities for kids to explore something they are interested in," said Gerhardt, noting her son received money to attend college because he was good in music. She pointed out that colleges don't hand out scholarships just because kids meet the minimum state requirements for coursework.
"When they see speech, art, then they are impressed," said Rosenburg.
"Why not cut AP classes instead of speech?" asked audience member Jackie Kling.
Those are the types of classes that students take to get college credit, but they don't have to pay for it, explained Superintendent Joe Brown.
"We have a lot of students who earned a lot of credits [and] saved $26,000," Brown said.
"It helps kids who want to go to college," added Gerhardt. "We couldn't come up with enough advanced classes to make a dent (in the $1.5M cut)."
Another thing that wouldn't make a dent is toilet paper. The board members have heard from some levy opponents that the amount of toilet paper purchased should be monitored.
"We can't cut enough toilet paper to make it," said Gerhardt.
Laue said they've already heard from the fifth graders that the toilet paper is too thin.
On a more serious topic, ending the school day at 2:22 p.m. raised more concerns.
Latch-key kids already spend a couple of hours alone before their parents get off work, Gerhardt said. A shorter school day would increase that and could result in some of those kids getting into trouble, meaning the community pays in a multitude of ways, including increased law enforcement.
"It wouldn't be all of them (the kids), but it only takes a few," she said.
"There's a lot of kids walking on the fence and they can fall either way," said audience member Bruce Abitz.
Some kids may not get the chance because their parents will send them to another district, a fear raised by Nelson, who wanted to know what happens to state aid if parents open enroll their kids in another district.
"We'd lose state funding and they'd gain it," Gerhardt said.
"How will other schools feel when their class sizes jump?" asked Sarah Brown, wondering if there is a mass exodus from Fairmont to neighboring districts, can the other districts turn students away?
"Either you have open enrollment or you don't," Superintendent Brown said. If a district wanted to somehow limit the numbers, the restrictions would have to be very specific.
After going through three previous informational meetings, the board members hope people understand the repercussions if the referendum fails next month.
"God forbid, if we run out of money in four years," said Sandy Beckendorf, school board member. "It hurts when they say the school board lies. I don't lie. If this doesn't pass, don't say we lied to you."