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Lakewood starts the process to cut $1 million

HEBRON- Lakewood Superintendent Jay Gault could cut $1 million from the district’s budget with the stroke of a pen, but the decision’s not that simple. “Honestly, there’s not a plan yet,” he said.

The district hosted its first community task force meeting Dec. 14 – a 62-person citizens’ group charged with deciding the best places to cut $1 million from the district’s budget since an 8.9 mills levy failed in November.

Gault said the process of determining where the cuts will be made is a combination of recommendations from the school board, the administration, and the task force. Once those recommendations are available, dollar amounts will be determined for each recommended cut, which will be extracted from the budget until $1 million is reached. He said members of the task force asked for lots of information at their first meeting, which the district is working to provide them in an informational packet.

It’s anybody’s guess where those cuts will made at this point, said Gault. He also doesn’t know if those cuts will be entire programs, or bits and pieces taken from many places.

Many students fear for programs like art class. During the Dec. 9 Lakewood School Board meeting, students Justin Gamble and Megan Cullison implored the board to keep the district’s art program intact. “I didn’t know I was artistic,” said Gamble.

“The art program has kind of made me think differently,” said Cullison, who believes art’s requirement for attention to detail helps her work ethic. Gamble said success in art class promotes self-confidence. “It’s really important to many people,” he said.

Student board member Nikohl Kennedy hopes the district will make smaller cuts and retain major programs; she said many students are worried they’ll lose entire programs.

Gault said that the task force’s next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11, where he believes the group will make significant progress deciding where to cut the budget. “I think a lot of good things will come of this,” he said.

In other Lakewood School Board news:

• Board members will decide whether to admit students from other districts into Lakewood’s Digital Academy – a K-12 online community school the Lakewood Board of Education created separate from the district. If so, only students from districts bordering Lakewood would be permitted to join.

“We’re not looking to actively recruit from other districts,” Gault told the board Dec. 9. He estimated 11 students from neighboring districts want to join the Digital Academy.

Board members said their only concern is how opening up academy admissions would affect the district’s bottom line.

Gault said admitting more students could increase the district’s revenue as long as, generally speaking, the number of people joining the academy is greater than those leaving. He said a reason for admitting only students from adjacent districts is the students must physically attend a lab before beginning online work from home.

• Gault said the state is only allowing three calamity or “snow” days per year, beginning with the 2010-2011 school year. That new limitation creates the strong possibility that students will need to make up several days in the summer because Lakewood averages about seven calamity days per year. However, he assured parents the change would not prompt him to keep the school open when the roads are unsafe. “If the roads are bad, we’ll stay home,” he said. If more days need to be made up in the summer, then so be it.

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