Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Cabot schools cutting back

Leader staff writer

The Cabot School District won’t be holding an extensive summer school this year as there isn’t enough money in the budget.
And, according to Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman, if voters don’t approve the 3.9 millage increase March 11, bringing Cabot to a total of 39.9 mills, construction projects in the seventh largest school district in the state will stall because of the lack of funds.

While speaking to the Cabot Lions Club last Thursday, Thurman said cutting summer school was one of many things the district did in order to retain an ending balance of nearly $2.7 million, money the district has left at the end of a fiscal year, but it isn’t nearly enough to cover another catastrophic event.

“We cut almost $800,000 to get back there and we’ve got to get back there – there are no negotiations,” he said. “There will be no summer school this year; secondary classes only and it will be tuition based – the students have to pay to make up a course,” he added.

Cabot schools have always offered an elaborate summer school program, Thurman said, but no more because of the extensive costs involved.

“We had to cut back on budgets.Almost every department budget was cut in half. Curriculum was cut in half, technology and maintenance was pulled back. It was all cut back to get us back to this point,” he told the club.

And with the current budget, once the new Junior High North is finished, still 18 months from completion, Thurman said the district doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

“The bottom line is we don’t have money hiding somewhere. It’d be nice to have a big pot of money to dig from, but we don’t,” he said.

He explained that the $10 million the district received from Great American Insurance Co. covered the cost to rebuild a replica campus, but standards, such as classroom size and the number of stairwells required per student, have been raised since the August 2006 electrical fire destroyed the eight-year-old campus.

“If it (the millage increase) doesn’t pass, all the growth things we need to take care of are off the table because we can’t allocate the money,” Thurman said. “It’s difficult to ask, and I hate to ask, but we have no options at this point,” he said.

Thurman told the Lions about some of the $50.5 million in construction projects the district has planned with the millage increase: a new roof for Eastside Elementary School, a new gym/cafeteria at the high school, science labs at Junior High South, air conditioning for all campus kitchens and additional classrooms at Westside Elementary School.

“The Eastside roof is pouring through right now. We need a new roof, but I can’t pull $200,000 out (of the budget) and put a roof on Eastside,” he said.

The high school gym is inadequate, and windows have been cut into the brick in the cafeteria to serve students through.
“We serve 2,800 students and it seats 300 – that’s not a good situation,” the superintendent said.

The plans for the new gym/cafeteria call for a 2,500-seat gym and a 900-seat cafeteria with a food-court style.

“If we take the (health, physical education and recreation) gym off, the state won’t help us pay for it because they don’t cover athletic facilities, but we added classrooms under the concourse level and now it’s an academic facility,” he said. “We really need this while the state will help pay for it.”

Thurman said if the millage increase passes, work will immediately start on the new HPER/cafeteria, taking about two years to complete.

Once it’s finished, a ninth-grade facility will move to the high school campus and open seats at the junior high level for future growth.

At Junior High South, one classroom was converted into a science lab. The proposed project would add six labs at JHS and give students there access to what Thurman called “great labs” available at the high school and the new JHN.

The only kitchens with air conditioning in the district are at Stagecoach and Magness Creek elementaries.

“What we do in the cafeteria when it’s hot is turn the dining room down low and put fans in the doors to keep the ladies from getting sick. The state said that wasn’t a good idea and they would help us fix it,” Thurman said.

Westside Elementary needs additional classrooms because it’s overcrowded.

“If (the millage) passes, we will immediately get some classrooms built on the far end going out into the open field,” he said.

Aside from the future projects, Thurman said there are items that need to be addressed now, but the funds aren’t available.
Stacking zones for student pickup and drop-off are needed at Southside and Westside Elementary schools, and Stage-coach Road needs to be paved from the school to Campground Road.

“It’s all potholes now,” Thur-man said, “but I can’t spend $50,000 to pave the road. That’s the handcuffs we’re dealing with right now.

“We’ve got to be very careful about any expenditures.”