Editor's note: Under the tentative plan approved by the board, the student-to-teacher ratio for kindergarten and grades 1-3 would remain at its current level. This fact was not noted in the original version of this story.
STANFORD — Lincoln County's Board of Education has approved a tentative plan to save $270,000 next school year by cutting the equivalent of six full-time teacher positions.
The move is the first step in a larger plan to cut $500,000 from next year's budget and a total of $1 million from the budget over the next three years, Superintendent Karen Hatter said.
The cuts are necessitated by simple math — the district is going to run out of money if it continues to spend at its current levels, Hatter said.
"We're three to four years out … based on our district auditor's interpretations of our finances," she said. "He said we're three to four years out from not generating enough revenue to pay our expenses, from not having enough money in the bank … you can't spend more than you make."
Board members approved unanimously Tuesday night a new district staffing allocation formula and staffing allocation plan that raises the district student-to-teacher ratio for grades 4-12 from 24-to-1 to 25-to-1.
The student-to-teacher ratio for kindergarten and grades 1-3 would remain at 24-to-1.
"The board does not take this lightly," Board Chairman Jim Kelley said. "We know that we're dealing with people and, in turn, we're dealing with their students. So as Miss Hatter loses sleep in the night worrying about these things, we're concerned about them also."
The net effect is the loss of the equivalent of six full-time teachers across the district, but actual changes at individual schools vary widely because of differing enrollments.
Stanford Elementary School is slated to lose 2.8 full-time teachers, while Lincoln County High School is set to lose 1.45 teachers and McKinney Elementary would lose 1.3 teachers.
Waynesburg Elementary School and McGuffey Sixth-Grade Center would each lose half of a full-time teacher, and Hustonville Elementary School will lose .3 of a full-time teacher.
Highland Elementary would gain half a full-time position and Lincoln County Middle School would gain about a third of a full-time position under the plan.
Fort Logan High School's and Crab Orchard Elementary School's staffing levels would be unaffected.
Based on the average district teacher's salary of $45,000, school officials estimated cutting the six positions could save $270,000. Hatter said teachers who are cut will not be tenured and will likely make less than the average salary but that when benefits are factored in on top of salaries, the savings will likely be about the same.
The plan is a tentative allocation due by March 1 to the school principals so they can begin to make plans, Hatter said. Further changes can still be made before the final allocation is submitted by May 1.
Hatter said the board and school officials are still coming up with a list of all the ways in which the district could cut the additional funds needed in order to reach $500,000 in savings.
"Part of what I'm trying to do is to listen to people about their ideas of where the cuts need to be made," she said. "We haven't made those decisions."
Hatter said her goal is to have a decision made on the remaining cuts before April 1.
She compared the district budget cuts to a crew righting the course of a ship headed for disaster.
"If you say there's an iceberg out there and we have time to miss it, well, we've started turning and we have enough time to turn," she said. "I'm not saying we're going broke."
Hatter said the board opted for a "middle" approach to cuts, saving more cuts for down the road if federal and other sources of funding continue to stagnate.
"I'm always shaky about making decisions (like this)," she confessed to the board members. "We don't know exactly how much we're going to have. We don't know what our unforeseen expenses will be. We don't know how much the federal government is gong to sequester. We don't know when they're going to say, 'We're not paying that bill for you.'"
Board member Denny Hogue said he was saddened that many who had learned of the cuts seemed more concerned about their own well-being than the well-being of the district.
"You can have a dissenting opinion — everybody is entitled to their own opinion — but if we've got everybody thinking about just themselves, it's going to make it unsettling for everybody," he said. "We can get through it and make it work, but we can't if everybody is pulling apart instead of working together."
Before the board meeting ended, Hatter thanked the board for making a hard vote and paraphrased Theodore Roosevelt.
"The best option is to make the right decision; the second-best option is to make the wrong decision; and the worst option is to make no decision at all," she said. "So I appreciate your support in voting for this. I know it's hard, and I think we can take Mr. Hogue's advice and get through this together."