Terry Mooreland presented Meridian School District’s financial outlook for the coming school year to a gymnasium of concerned parents and community members May 13 at Meridian Elementary School. His report was grim.
During a PowerPoint presentation, Mooreland, superintendant of Meridian School District, went line by line through the reductions in funding the school has received in the last three years. He reported general state aid (GSA) was reduced by five percent in 2012, another 6 percent for 2013 and he said based on Governor Pat Quinn’s proposed budget, the school will lose another 7 percent for 2014. This next proposed reduction would be an estimated loss $198,866 Meridian School District would do without.
While this reduction in funding is a tough pill to swallow, Mooreland said the cuts do not stop there. He said Quinn has also proposed cutting funding for school transportation by 71 percent, which would be a loss of $163,831. These decreases when coupled with the possible $150,538 reduction in Title 1 funding could cripple the district. Mooreland said should these reductions become a reality, some things will have to change.
Mooreland said this is the problem, though. No budget has been passed at the State level, so the numbers he presented are simply projections. He and his staff have been, as he called it, making a budget based on a maybe.
School officials will have to make a decision soon as to how to deal with the possibility of such drastic cuts to their budget, but no one is quite sure what that decision will be. The primary solution Mooreland presented was to change the student structure at both the elementary and high schools. Mooreland said he and his team have considered removing Meridian’s ten students from the Johnson, Alexander Massac and Pulaski Special Education program (JAMP), which would save the district a total of $175,000, some of which would go to paying two full time special education teachers to work with these ten students on Meridian’s campus. However, to make room for these special needs students, seventh and eighth graders would need to be moved from the elementary school building to the high school building, which creates a whole new host of challenges. Terrance Gaddy, principal of Meridian High School is confident he and his staff can handle it.
Gaddy also spoke during the presentation and he assured parents that should this change take place, his office will take all the necessary steps to ensure students make a smooth transition. He said seventh and eighth grade students would be separated from the high school students by keeping each group in separate hallways.
Should this happen, new students at the high school will not be the only big change. Gaddy and Mooreland also said they have drafted plans to restructure the curriculum for seventh through twelfth grades. Because of eleven layoffs Mooreland had to make for the fall, he and Gaddy said in the new plan, they have been forced to eliminate all electives, which Gaddy said presents a new challenge to teachers.
“The primary challenge is maintaining student interest when you have limited number of electives,” he said. The new curriculum would focus on eight classes: Physical Education, Math, English, Social Science, Science, Health, Drivers Education and Spanish, which are the basic classes students are required by the state to complete before graduating. This change would mean cutting everything from computer classes to even the school’s Ag program.
The thought of losing Ag classes did not sit well with some parents. Johnny Severs, a parent with two children at Meridian High School, said with the area’s agriculturally driven economy, losing the Ag program would negatively affect students graduating from the school who hope to go on to complete a degree in agriculture. He said should the school go without an Ag class for more than a year, it would lose its chapter of the Future Farmers of America. Severs said with Meridian’s preparations to hire a new science teacher, he believes they should seek a candidate who has the tools to teach agricultural as well.
Mooreland, who will be retiring as superintendant in 60 days, said he does not know what is next for his district but he said he does feel defeated.
“I can’t win,” he said. Moreland explained that there is very little a school can do to bounce back from such drastic funding cuts. Mooreland said the restructuring of the schools is a very real possibility but nothing is set in stone. He said he plans to have another informational meeting and he has invited the region’s state representatives to attend, though he said he has not had luck getting their attention in the past.
Until he gets a budget on his desk with concrete numbers, Mooreland said it all just a waiting game.
“I guess we will wait and see what they do to us next,” he said.
Tyler Dixon contributed to this report
–Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242