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The Duneland School Board on Thursday approved a set of budget cuts estimated at $1.4 million, including an early retirement incentive for teachers and the termination of the top positions at the Alternative School and the Positive Life Program.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer warned that additional cuts will still be needed and that these will be acted upon in the coming weeks. Earlier, the state’s funding cut to Duneland was projected at around $1.3 million, but Baer said the latest estimate is that the loss will be higher, at around $1.6 million.

The funding cuts at Duneland are being felt by schools throughout Indiana, in response to statewide cuts in tuition support for schools of nearly $300 million.

Among the budget cuts announced by Baer and approved by the school board Thursday:

•Duneland teachers will be offered an early retirement incentive of a $15,000 one-time payment into their health coverage accounts if they retire early, provided that they have at least 10 years experience with Duneland and qualify for the state retirement benefit program. The payout will increase to $22,500 per teacher if at least 20 teachers sign up.

•Estelle Chaddock’s position as director of the Alternative School will be terminated and her duties will be transferred to admininstrators who will now oversee the program, which will move to Chesterton High School. The relocation is estimated to save $206,000.

•Gloria Guerrero’s position as director of the Positive Life Program will be terminated, and the duties for the substance abuse program will be transferred to other administrators.

•The school board gave approval for a “reduction in force” for four classified, non-teaching staff positions, saving an estimated $216,000 in salary and benefits.

•The Instructional Materials Center, located on Fifth Street, will close. The technology department will move to the space now occupied by the Alternative School. The school board still must decide what to do with the building.

•Five contrtact days now built into the contracts for seven administrative assistants at the elementary and intermediate schools will be cut.

•School board members will each take a $500 pay cut from their $2,000 a year stipend. Their per-meeting pay is not affected.

•School building availability will be curtailed, with no schools available after 7 p.m. and no Friday building use except at CHS. Four buildings -- Bailly, Westchester and Liberty Intermediate, and CHS --- will be available to outside groups on Saturdays, but only during 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with all janitorial and other costs paid for by the groups.

Other cost-savings moves announced by Baer include a continuation of a school energy savings program, estimated at $60,000 savings; a prohibition on the purchase of new vehicles; and the elimination of certain athletic programs not considered core programs. Other cost-saving moves anticipated include administrative furloughs, a reduction in the summer school schedule and increased summer school fees.

Through attrition and the early retirement incentive, Duneland expects to save up to $600,000 this year, Baer said.

On Thursday, the school board approved a list of 16 certified staff members who are retiring this year, all of whom will qualify for the early retirement bonus (see related story). If at least four more sign up by the Feb. 19 deadline, the bonus will increase to a one-time payment of $22,500 into each retirees’ medical expense accounts. To qualify, the teachers must meet the “rule of 85,” in which the their age and years of service total at least 85.

Although the incentive will initially require a payout, Baer said Duneland will still save money, especially over the long-term. He noted that the difference between a top-earning teacher and one who has only a few years’ experience can translate to a savings of roughly $40,000 in salaries and benefits per person. “This is a way to save dollars without (sacrificing) programs,” he said.

However, he also emphasized that the drawback to losing veteran teachers is that the school system loses their years of experience and knowledge.

Baer said it remains to be seen if more state funding cuts to schools will be announced, but he said there is “no reason to think” the financial situation will get any better any time soon.

The budget cuts announced Thursday will not directly impact classroom instruction, but Baer said that it’s getting more difficult to cut costs without affecting the core academic programs.

Duneland School Board President Mike Trout said the cuts will be felt across-the-board, and that is why the board members felt it was important for them to take a loss as well. Trout acknowledged that a $500 per board member pay cut may not sound like much, but that “everybody’s going to feel the sting.”

The budget reduction plan passed without extensive board discussion, but Duneland School Board member John Marshall said no one should get the idea that the decision was an easy one. Administrators and board members spent a great deal of time considering the budget moves, Marshall said, adding that he was personally torn by some of the proposals.

“These were very, very difficult decisions for us,” he said.

In a separate financial matter, the school board approved the resolutions needed for a school pension bond refinancing, which is expected to save Duneland Schools up to $185,000 over the four years of the bond issue. A public hearing on the refinancing will be held at the March 1 school board meeting.

Student Honored

Also Thursday, Bailly Elementary Principal Mike Grubb presented student Sophia Burke with a framed certificate honoring her for her efforts to help the people of Haiti.

Burke approached Grubb after the earthquake and told him that she wanted to do something to help the earthquake victims. She took up a collection in school and raised a total of $252, which went to the Feed My Starving Children organization.

Bailly Projects

Also, the school board heard two presentations from Bailly Elementary School staff members.

Fourth grade teachers Cris Petro and Angie Nelson outlined their use of a software program called “Turning Point,” an interactive program in which students use clicker devices to participate in educational activities and tests. The results can be displayed instantly, which allows teachers the ability to zero in quickly on a subject that students might be having trouble with. Both teachers said the program is a great way to motivate kids, and that many of their students are excited to use the program.

The program was demonstrated at Thursday’s meeting, with school board members and administrators given the clickers and quizzed on a few questions.

Also Bailly nurse Mary Danko and head kitchen manager Lisa Ozimek outlined the school’s participation in the “Fuel Up to Play 60” program sponsored by the NFL and the National Dairy Council. Students earn points for healthy eating and exercising, with as many as 100 students participating on any given day. Danko said Bailly now has the highest number of points in Indiana and is ranked seventh in the nation. To recognize the school’s success, a few Indiana Colts players are expected to visit the school.

WPL Appointee

Also Thursday, the school board accepted a recommendation from Westchester Public Library to appoint Nicholas Tilden to the WPL Board to replace Karen Nash, who resigned as the school corporation’s appointee.

Posted 2/12/2010




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