He says he is ready to quit school if the school board cuts the program that he says changed his life.
Pontiff, a dozen or so of his fellow classmates and his father stood during a three-hour long Special School Board Meeting Tuesday night to show support for Mark Dunn’s Design & Fabrication class that is on the chopping block.
“I want to be a welder. Mr. Dunn teaches us on our level and I’ve learned so much after so many years of this school just passing us on. He changed my life and this isn’t right,” said Pontiff.
He didn’t have to quit school in protest Tuesday night. The popular program is safe, for now. The Board, in a 3-to-2 vote, opted to meet in another special meeting to “cherry pick” or consider line-by-line proposed cuts totaling $676,000 for 2016-2017.
The board is also expected to consider, for the third time, an additional option to move to a four-day school week with an estimated savings of $150,000.
Dunn’s class, along with high school art, elementary music (to be cut because a retiring teacher will not be replaced), alternative education and an early childhood teaching position are among positions to be cut.
Board Member Steven Broudy said the cuts most hurt the programs that directly touch the students’ education such as teachers, aides and special programs. He questioned whether more cuts could be made in the school’s administration or other areas.
“I don’t understand how making our school less attractive, a worse prospect for the education of children, is going to address the problems that we have … I understand we have needs for cuts, but this is too deep and we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Broudy.
More than 100 parents, students, teachers and administrators attended the meeting and heard Superintendent Sheldon Buxton explain how the district arrived at its dire financial situation.
A perfect storm of the state’s chronic failure to fund public education, coupled with a highly complicated funding formula, cuts from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, unfunded mandates such as the 1990s HB 1017, and the more recent SQ766 (passed by voters in 2012) have all led to the funding emergency in Luther and in other districts across the state.
But some critics, including board member Charles DeFuria, say the funding problem is also a result of plain old overspending.
“I’ve been voting no since June because I realized that we’ve been spending too much. That’s the problem,” he said.
He also called for the superintendent’s resignation to some audience applause.
Regardless, Board Member Sherri Anderson said hard choices must be made, noting that the district’s biggest expense is personnel at 88% of the district’s $5.5 million budget.
“We have a high probability that when we start (in July for next school year) that we will not have operating cash to purchase squat, pretty much. By the way, our audit told us that our payroll was over a half million dollars too high … And it’s hard. Okay, understand we don’t want to do this. The problem is we will be in the negative if we do not correct this problem now,” said Anderson.
When the meeting wore on to nearly three hours, Board President Matt Mohr turned attention back to the meeting agenda, and moved that the district declare a financial emergency exists for the 2016-2017 school year due to a projected shortfall in revenues. The motion passed with the only no vote from DeFuria who stipulated the cause of the emergency was because of overspending not a shortfall.
Board member Ray Stanfield said the board must do the best it can.
“It’s painful to cut jobs. But we must move forward.”
In other action:
- The board voted to cancel school on Fridays in April to save approximately $1,000 per Friday. The district has the extra days in the calendar because there were no snow days used this winter.
- The board voted to approve a search for a new outside auditor.
Proposed RIF Plans (Plan A)
- Reduction of four full-time elementary teachers (music, early childhood and two others)
- Elimination of nurse secretary (savings $3,000)
- Reduction of two full-time teachers in middle school (including design/fabrication program)
- Reduction of two full-time high school teachers (alternative education and art)
- Reduction of two full-time maintenance staff
- Reduction in supplemental stipends
- Reduction in transportation for extra-curricular events (40-mile radius)
- Request new pricing on various services (linens, paper, etc.)
- Reduction of eight full-time teaching aide positions.