Mishawaka school cuts discussion

School City of Mishawaka has been talking about ways to save money for years. Last November, a $28 million referendum failed, leaving the school board looking for other ways to increase revenue and decrease costs.

Some of the ideas proposed to reduce budget costs included consolidating the district with Penn-Harris-Madison Schools or South Bend Community Schools, or closing Hums Elementary School for good.

Numerous meetings with the PTA and concerned staff members have been held throughout the fall and winter to determine the best way make up for the failed referendum.

Tuesday night school board members presented a report on what areas they’ve ruled out, that they’re considering cutting and what changes will be implemented immediately.

First on the list of items “ruled out” was a consolidation with either PHM or SBCS schools. Mishawaka officials say they won’t restructure the middle schools to create two schools for grades 6 through 8, or sell the property on Fir Rd. Nor will School City suspend elementary school art, PE or music programs because they help create more well-rounded children.

The second category of school board decisions were those deemed a possibility to be phased in. If Steele Stadiums’ light system fails then the school board said it won’t invest in repairs, instead, all varsity football games will be moved to Saturday afternoons. Additionally, athletic related overtime will continued to be monitored at a nominal savings to the schools.

Eliminating “low participation” sports like boy’s tennis, girl’s golf and other student activities will be monitored. The board explained that if not enough people sign up for the roster the groups could be eliminated to save money.

Barker said the board will continue to monitor the guidelines for the Affordable Care Act, and may restructure health insurance options in such a way that could save $1-5 million depending on negotiations and agreements with staff.

Other possible options for saving money include: suspending high school and middle school band and choral concert tours ($5,800 estimated savings), redefining attendance boundaries, outsourcing food, custodial and transportation services, discontinuing the mailing of report cards ($2,600 estimated savings), and closing Hums due to HVAC and ceiling concerns.

Barker made it clear that some cuts need to be implemented immediately to start saving money now.

“If we don’t start now preparing for the cost that we know are going to come, we know that 2019 is going to arrive, 2020 is going to arrive, if we don’t start to save for it, whoever is sitting in those seats or speaking at this podium is going to be facing some tough, catastrophic decisions to make,” Barker added.

To save an estimated $100,000 the school board will close the clinic, for an additional $28,000 savings it will suspend fertilization of athletic fields and school yards. The high school’s track is in such disrepair that Barker said there will no longer be home track meets and all holiday tournaments must be held at no cost to the school corporation.

The reported called for all freshman athletic teams and all middle school B-teams to be suspending, saving and estimated $18,000 and $34,000.

Reaction from the parents was mixed. Some were outraged to hear that their child’s favorite program was likely going to be eliminated, others were relieved to hear there were no immediate plans for closing Hums elementary.

One major concern expressed by both parents and school board members was the issue of busing and transporting students. There is still a significant amount of number crunching to do, but Barker estimated that if the immediate cuts were implemented the school board could save around $4 million.

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