Reelsville Elementary will close for good at the end of the current school year.
"We've had numerous suggestions about other things we can do," Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt said during the school board meeting Monday night. "Unfortunately, they don't add up to the amount of savings needed."
The school's closing comes after numerous budget cuts and a decrease in enrollment. As previously stated by Bernhardt, the school corporation is currently spending nearly $500,000 more than it is bringing in.
"We've got a huge deficit, we're spending way too much," explained Bernhardt. "We have to do something drastic."
Financial issues arose after the state of Indiana cut the small schools grant, which provided nearly $300,000. The school corporation also lost 66 students this year, 38 more than the 28-student loss last year. The increase in the lost students alone created a $400,000 deficit.
"We've had a continual decline of students and that affects our funding," Bernhardt previously stated. "It's created somewhat of a perfect storm."
Bernhardt came prepared for the school board meeting on Monday night and provided exact amounts of where the savings will be coming from by closing the school.
Listed was the cost to the corporation of the six lowest-paid teachers, which included salary, insurance, social security and retirement. The corporation will save at least $290,752 by letting the six lowest paid teachers go. Also, the corporation could save more if a higher paid teacher chooses to go into retirement or transfer to a different school.
Bernhardt also provided the total costs of the four lowest-paid custodians and secretaries which would save the corporation $160,770.
By closing the school, the corporation would save $95,734 on utility costs which include such things as water, fuel oil, electricity, sewage, security systems and various others.
The total costs of savings from eliminating six teachers, four secretaries, custodians and utilities will be $547,256.
"This savings is not immediate," explained Bernhardt. "We won't see the savings begin until midway through 2012."
It has yet to be determined which teachers will be transferring over to either South Putnam or Central Elementary. Those decisions will not be made until the end of the current school year.
"When administers have completed their evaluations for the year it will then be an administrative function," explained Bernhardt. "The principals and I will look at the staff and make a recommendation on which teachers will transfer."
Bernhardt stressed that the total cost amounts provided were for the six lowest cost teachers. That number may change based on who decides to go into retirement or possibly transfer. Therefore there could be an increase of savings depending on which teachers decided to leave voluntarily.
"There's a max of six teachers we can save," Bernhardt said. "If it's not the six least expensive the savings would be much greater."
One concerned Reelsville staff member voiced her opinion on the closing multiple times during the meeting. Although many believe this will provide more opportunities for the children, it's still a hard transition.
"This is a corporation problem not Reelsville," said Angie Nichols. "Now is the time for you to take the best of the best ... the best of what this corporation has to offer and we need to keep that. The ones that need to go need to go."
Although, only a maximum of six teachers will be transferred over, Bernhardt said that it is not just Reelsville teachers that may be eliminated.
Cash balances were provided for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. On Dec. 31, 2009 the cash balance for the school corporation was $968,000. That number went down to $885,000 just one year later and it is projected the cash balance will be only $350,000 at the end of the year.
"Our cash balances are diminishing quickly," Bernhardt explained. "We have to make large savings in order to keep us from spending all of our cash and being broke in the future."
Bernhardt touched on several of the ideas brought up through the various board meetings as well as meeting with the parents. Though many had good ideas, Bernhardt explained that they just don't add up to the kind of savings needed.
With this move, kindergarten through fifth grade will be transferred from Reelsville Elementary to Central Elementary. Grade six, from Fillmore, Reelsville and Central will be placed in the junior high wing of South Putnam High School.
A major concern for parents was that their children would be placed in larger class sizes thus not giving them the individual attention they may require.
"We've got excellent teachers in the school corporation," said Bernhardt. "We provide a good solid education for students, and that's not going to change."
The board assured the community that class sizes in most cases will even be smaller than they are now. Instructional assistants will not necessarily be eliminated due to budget cuts. The board will look at each class and base that decision based on the classes needs.
"Every class is looked at individually," explained Bernhardt. "We will certainly look at all of the classes and determine what classes have the most need."
Many voiced concerns that within five years the corporation would be in a similar situation.
"We're graduating more students than we are bringing in," said Bernhardt. "If there are no declining enrollments due to students moving away, we do know that within the next five or six years we'll continue to lose less students, but we'll continue to lose students because we are graduating more than are coming in."
The board knows there is a good possibility fewer students will be coming in. If that were to continue the board would make plans to further cut their budgets to live within its means.
"Part of that may be by eliminating a class here or there," said board member Steve Cash. "Each year we tolerate and try to adjust to save a little bit here or there when we can."
If population were to decrease the board would look at combining classes from three sections to two sections. Board members stressed that there is no way to predict what will happen, but they will try to monitor it the best they can.
Some parents also expressed concern that Reelsville actually has the smallest budget of the school's four buildings.
"I'm afraid that five years down the road we're going to be in the same situation and we're getting rid of our least expensive building, the one we can afford the most," said parent Jicasta King. "Reelsville fits our budget. The building's been there for a million years."
Although Reelsville may not be the most expensive building in the corporation to run, it does need the most work. The school is in need of a new heating system and heating controls as well as a new roof within the next few years.
In an effort to save money and try to get the budget on track, it is not feasible to make all the repairs needed for the building at this time. Closing Fillmore was not an option as it just had major renovations done to the building.
"There's a sizeable amount of taxpayer dollars that would have to be spent on upkeep of that building, that we wouldn't spend otherwise," Bernhardt said.
Planning for the upcoming school year will begin shortly after the administration returns from the holidays.
"We're going to hit the ground running when we get back from the holidays," explained Bernhardt. "We would much prefer we would not have these budget problems. This was the last option that we could go to."
The board voted 3-1 Monday to close the school with Nancy Wells, David Bombei and Wesley Hacker voting for the closing. President Mike Rissler voted against the measure, while secretary Steve Cash abstained.
The board also approved the personnel report during the meeting. The resignations of Desiree Vardman of South Putnam High School, effective Nov. 24 and Farrah Adams of South Putnam High school effective Jan. 1.
Missy Smith of Central Elementary was granted maternity leave beginning Feb. 16 until the end of the school year, Lisa Gall of Reelsville beginning Jan. 30 until the end of the school year and Heather Perkins of Reelsville beginning March 8 until the end of the school year.
John Crosby of Central Elementary was granted retirement effective July 31 and Brian Gardner of South Putnam High School was transferred to guidance counselor.
Many supporters of South Putnam agriculture teacher Dave Davies showed up at the school board meeting. However, Davies was not a topic of discussion at the meeting.
Davies is currently on administrative leave due to a pending investigation.