By Kevin Kelley
Thirty-two teaching and educational programming positions in the Westlake City Schools would be eliminated under budget recommendations made by Superintendent Dan Keenan.
Keenan revealed the recommendations Monday night at a well-attended, three-and-a-half-hour Board of Education meeting at the Westlake Schools Performing Arts Center. The proposals would eliminate about $2.5 million annually from the district’s budget.
In addition to the teachers, 25 drivers, four custodial workers and three administrative office employees would be laid off, under Keenan’s proposals.
The district would, beginning this spring, also implement a pay-to-participate policy for students wanting to take part in sports and extracurricular activities. The exact cost per activity has not been decided, as administrators are studying pay-to-participate programs in other school districts.
Bus transportation for students would likely be reduced to state minimums, namely to cover a two-mile distance between a student’s home and school, under the superintendent’s proposals. The busing cuts would take effect in February.
Fewer Advanced Placement courses, which can be used for college credit, would be offered, Keenan said. Only those that attract a full classroom of students would be taught, he explained.
“The high school schedule will look different,” Keenan said, adding that the current block schedule would be eliminated and replaced with a seven-period school day.
The core curriculum will remain strong, Keenan said, but many elective courses will likely be cut. Cuts in teaching staff will mean larger class sizes, he said.
Among the popular elective courses to be eliminated are TV production courses, Keenan said. The WHBS-TV studio would come under control of the school’s communications programs, and WHBS would continue as a club, the superintendent added.
No board vote on the proposed cuts was taken at Monday night’s meeting. Keenan will seek a vote on the busing cuts at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting, with further votes on additional cuts coming over the following months.
The proposed cuts follow the failure of a 5.4-mill operating levy, by a margin of 4,705 votes (46.6 percent) for and 5,388 (53.4) against Nov. 5. A 5.9-mill tax failed in May by just 44 votes.
Keenan said the cuts are required now to responsibly manage the district and better position the district to get voter approval for an operating levy in the future. The superintendent said he will recommend that the board seek new revenue, meaning a new tax, in 2014. The question, he said, is for how much money. If cuts are not made now the district would have to request a large tax increase, which would be less likely to pass, to fend off deficits, he said.
Saying he was disappointed and sad at the school levy’s failure, Keenan said it was in the community’s interest to come together and move forward.
However, three board members – Barb Leszynski, Tony Falcone and Carol Winter – called on the person responsible for anonymous, anti-levy mailings sent to voters before the election to step forward.
“Let’s talk about your issues like adults would,” Falcone said.
Falcone also said many are angry with Mayor Dennis Clough and Westlake City Council leaders for not publicly supporting the levy.
Outgoing board member Nate Cross said it’s important for the board to listen to the community, adding he had not been listened to when he argued against a large school construction project and for more concessions by district employees.
“We can sit here and point fingers,” Cross said. “I don’t think that’s constructive.”