Real estate taxes for Plum School District residents will remain steady for the 2012-13 school year, but two electives have been cut.
On Tuesday, the Plum School Board voted 5-3 to approve a $56.7 million budget, which included taking $1.6 million from the close to $6 million fund balance to cover a deficit. Board members Tom McGough, Joe Tommarello and Loretta White dissented. John St. Leger was absent.
The current millage is 22.2 mills, and it has not increased since 2005.
Last week, expenses in the preliminary budget increased by an additional $232,367, which included the purchase of new laptops, and money to go toward the resurfacing of the high school track and additional parking at the high school.
Officials agreed to take the amount of the deficit out of the fund balance as well as cutting the junior high Family & Consumer Sciences and high school Drivers' Education programs.
School board member Kevin Dowdell said officials are going to have to find ways to curb spending in future years rather then continuing to take money from the fund balance if they want the district to succeed financially.
"This is unsustainable," he said. "Our deficit continues to grow."
Dowdell said many other district have been faced with cutting programs, and Plum is headed in that direction, too.
Several teachers and residents asked the board to reconsider cutting the electives from the budget before the board voted, saying that the classes are important to the development of students' life skills.
Many also said that the classes were more important than adding parking spaces at the high school and buying new laptops.
White said the decision to cut the classes—it was saving $180,000—was very premature because the board will be developing an ad hoc committee to discuss curriculum.
"It was like throwing darts at a dart board," she said of the process used to select the electives to cut. "Cutting educational programs should be a last resort."
Tommarello said after the meeting that though he voted against the budget, the decision to cut the classes could have been prevented had the teachers' union agreed to meet with the board education committee as requested.
"A majority of other unions are meeting with their boards and making concessions in order to keep programs and jobs, why didn't ours? If teachers truly care about programs and the kids, why didn't they agree to meet with us after we asked to meet with them?," he asked. "I voted no on the budget this year because I felt the cuts were blind and the decisions came late in the year. But next year is a whole new ball game, and unless concessions are made in salaries and benefits, more programs will be cut."
The board also voted 5-1—White dissented—to take an extra $2.5 million from the fund balance to put it into a capital reserve fund earmarked for renovations and improvements to school buildings. That money only can be used for that purpose.
Many residents voiced their skepticism about the move, stating that it was risky to set aside that large amount of money only for renovations.
Board member Andy Drake said it is necessary to move the money into a separate account to ensure that minimal amounts of loans are taken out for much-needed renovations to school buildings.
He said Adlai Stevenson will be the next school to be renovated.