After weeks of heated debate, countless hours of number crunching and minutes of final comments, the Lakota Local Schools Board of Education approved nearly $6 million in cuts. Four board members voted for the plan and one member voted against it.
Administrators say salaries and benefits make up 80-percent of the district's $165 million annual budget. That's why the biggest chunk of the cuts, $5.8 million, came from putting 54 teaching positions, 23 staff positions, and an estimated seven nursing positions on the chopping block.
"It's very hard," said Judy Buschle, President of the local teacher union, Lakota Education Association. "As I look at their faces and know that they're going to be unemployed in this economy. That's not great. How many jobs are out there? I don't know."
"These are some of the people that have made Lakota great and that's what's so difficult about being in this budget situation," said Laura Kursman, community relations executive director for Lakota Local Schools.
The school board also approved cuts to the music program through scaling back Sixth grade band practice from two days a week to one, as well as cutting some bus routes, and bumping up class size by two students. Many parents told us off camera that they worry the cuts in this board room will impact learning in the classroom.
"We have a great school system," Kursman said. "That's why we worked so hard on these budget cuts. We hope to just restructure the programming a little bit."
School Board President Joan Powell agreed.
"So while I don't like this," Powell said. "I think this community has to realize that we absolutely need to reduce costs."
The $5.9 million in cuts would be both temporary and permanent. The district is also considering a May levy to generate future revenue and stave off a similar issue down the road.
A severance package for the district's highest paid teachers was also approved. No word Monday night on how many teachers would accept the voluntary offer. Kursman said the buy-outs could save some teaching jobs. Kursman said the exact number of lay-offs and those affected by the severance package will be worked out in the coming weeks.
The changes will take effect in September for the 2010-2011 school year.