Westlake Supt. of Schools Dr. Dan Keenan shared plans to cut $2.2 million from the Westlake City Schools budget at the Board of Education meeting held Nov. 18.
Held at the Westlake Performing Arts Center to accommodate a large crowd, Dr. Keenan said the cuts were necessitated by the Nov. 5 defeat of the 5.4 mill continuing levy for operations.
Cuts will include the elimination of 32 teaching positions: 12 at the high school, 6 at Lee Burneson Middle School, 3 at Parkside, 4 elementary positions and plus elementary IB coordinator, music, librarians, art enrichment, TV and engineering staff.
“We will go through the process of making adjustments much as we have in the past,” he said. Last night’s plan will be further reviewed before a December BOE meeting. The first wave of cuts, realigning bus routes, will be implemented in February.
Dr. Keenan and board members all expressed disappointment in the levy failure – the second rejection of the year.
Dr. Keenan also said budget cuts alone will not be enough to carry the district forward.
“Budget cuts alone will not fix it,” he said. He presented a series of slides to visually explain shortfalls. Even with the $2.2 million in cuts, expenditure growth will not be met.
Dr. Keenan also shared a series of slides that illustrated several levy/cutback scenarios the district might face. A 4.9 mil levy accompanied by last night’s proposed cuts would keep the district in the black for just two years.
“It is important that we all come together to get structure here and do good things for our kids in Westlake Schools,” said Dr. Keenan, adding he understands voter frustration with taxes. “I understand the frustration. We can advocate for change but still take care of our students here in Westlake.”
Board members Carol Leszynski, Tony Falcone and Carol Winters each speculated on reasons why the Nov. 5 failed. Each felt the school issue lost votes because of the Westlake City -Cleveland Water controversy. They also called out anonymous individuals who campaigned against the levy through mailers and internet posts.
“Folks behind the anonymous mailers – put your name on it and let’s dialogue,” urged Winter.
From the audience, resident Russ Ezolt said, “I am one of those anonymous residents and I am here.”
Ezolt called teacher and personnel salaries, which make up about 85 per cent of the budget, “the elephant in the room.”
“You say there’s no fat, but 85 per cent of the budget is personnel,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if you cut salaries, you’ll balance the budget.”
Other audience members came to the defense of teachers.
“I spent a day in my daughter’s classroom. I don’t know how her teacher does it,” said one parent. “I would like to double her salary.”
Another parent said she and her husband moved to Westlake 18 years ago, basing their decision on the quality of Westlake schools.
The mother of two special education student tearfully expressed her appreciation for teachers.
Student Clay Hoon offered to start a student-led door-to-door campaign to raise money for schools. “It is easy to say no on a ballot. It might not be as easy if the request is made in person,” he said.
Leszynski and Falcone each appealed to heads of Westlake city government to join the cause and campaign for Westlake Schools. “I am asking our city officials to come on board, not for the sake of the schools but for the city as well. Because if the schools are diminished, the city will be diminished,” said Leszynski.
Falcone added that voters have expressed disappointment in the lack of city-school unity. “We also undoubtedly lost votes this time to water politics,” he said. “And there is outrage over anonymous opposition and misinformation.”
Westlake Schools treasurer Mark Pepera said, “These cuts will change the face of our school system.”
The challenge faced by the district, he said, is “How are we going to raise additional revenue and gain community support?”