School Board Decides Against New Tax Levy

By Zoe Lawson

On Jan. 21, the school board met for what most suspected would be a fairly routine meeting. They were making one big decision: how much to ask for with a new tax levy after the failure of Proposition Y and when to put it on the ballot. The board went in a different direction. They decided on a vote of 4-3 to not go out for a new tax levy at all.

The decision to not go for a new levy came as a surprise at the meeting, and the debate surrounding the issue ultimately culminated in board member Amy McEvoy walking out after the vote. Board president Mark Lafata, treasurer Cynthia Bice, and members Rene Cope and Chad Lange voted to not place a new proposition on the future ballot. This was a reversal of some of their previous roles, with Cope helping with a campaign for Proposition Y this summer.

“All of the board members had different reasons for not wanting the tax levy,” FHSD communications manager Jennifer Henry said. “The general consensus was that they felt it was too soon to go back to voters. They wanted to live with the cuts we’ve made and come back together on the issue at a later date.”

Since the failure of Prop Y this past summer, it has been clear that if FHSD did not see increased income, they would have to make cuts, though those cuts were delayed with the promise that a levy was on its way. With that option now off the table, the FHSD community is left wondering what happens next.

For many, this decision is especially concerning given the school board’s past difficulty agreeing on what cuts will need to be made. $8.2 million have already been cut this year, and at least $4 million in additional cuts will be made for next year, $3 million of which will be personnel related. According to FHSD chief finance officer Kevin Supple, approximately two percent of administration, two percent of teachers, and less than one percent of all support staff will not be returning next year. FHN and FHC will be losing approximately three teachers each, and FHHS will be losing four. Even still, much of what will be cut is up for debate.

“As far as possible, we’re trying to keep the cuts out of the classroom, but there’s only so much we can do,” Supple said. “Staffing is the largest portion of our expenditure, and while we will be trying to cut other things like club funding and transportation first, cuts will have to be made.”

For Superintendent Pam Sloan, being able to make up for the cuts being made now once the district has proper funding in the future will be difficult. With updates and curriculum revisions being put on hold, she worries the district may have to play catch-up later, costing the district more money and making future changes more difficult.

“We’ve already begun to downsize and reduce some of our expenditures quite a bit in these last couple of years,” Sloan said. “I think those are things we are not going to see come back. One of those is tutoring services for kids. We also had a technology plan in place for this year, and coming years, and that’s had to be put on hold. Every year we refresh our technology to keep up and make sure we have what students need. Depending on the tax levy how long we postpone that, we may not be able to do this for quite a while. As soon as you skip one refresh cycle though, it becomes increasingly difficult to catch up and make those changes.

We do the same with our cScreen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.41.14 AMurriculum every five years, and make sure the outcomes are correct for the student. That will change, the materials and the review process will have to be put on hold. All of these things are going to continue to change and all of this will be have to put on hold until we see increased revenue.”

FHSD will be cutting the funding for smaller clubs and activities. Tutoring services will also not be returning any time in the near future.

“Tutoring cuts are going to carry forward into the foreseeable future,” Supple said. “We’ve had stories from parents about the impact this has had on students. Students in the middle are going to feel the largest impact. We hope that we’ll be able to find a way to bring it back, that remains to be seen.”

While the Board of Education has agreed to not cut any transportation services for the remainder of this school year, board member Sandra Ferguson says bus services for students living less than three and a half miles from school will likely be one of the largest cuts.

“The busses will be the first things to go [without a new levy],” Ferguson said. “There’s no other choice. It may take some getting used to for parents, picking up kids and dropping them off, but it’s the best option we have in a bad situation.”

Bussing cuts would have impacts on the FHSD community beyond students and parents. Twelve thousand students make their way to school everyday, 7,000-8,000 of which come by bus.

“It will end up causing a lot of traffic problems,” Supple said. “It will at least double drop-off and pick-up rates, making things more difficult for everyone. It will make it harder for people getting to work, not to mention students that may be late, or may not be able to make it to school at all. We’re going to need to find some way to work this all out.”

Until a new tax levy is proposed and passed and programs and staffing can be refunded, FHSD will have to learn to live with the cuts they’ve had to make.

“If we had the tax levy in August as we had planned we would have been able to see that revenue right at the beginning of this school year, but we didn’t so we had to make some changes,” Sloan said. “I think this year we had an appropriate fund balance ending in our board policy but we could very well be under that. I hope that our community wants great schools and I think we have to prove that we’ve done our due diligence in controlling expenditures where we can, that so called tightening of the belt. I think that maybe people didn’t see that because we just didn’t want to make some of the cuts we’ve now had to make. I do believe in our community, I do believe they think education is priority and I do believe that we can get through this and come out all the stronger.”