Kunz urges board to consider staff cuts in the interest of ‘being proactive’
Superintendent Kevin Kunz on Monday night, Nov. 13, suggested the Freeman School Board consider eliminating two full-time positions — a custodian and a music teacher — as a way to save the district money long-term.
Kunz told the board he wasn’t seeking immediate action, but instead wanted to put those options on the table as Freeman Public keeps a close eye on a general fund that was nearly $500,000 in the red at conclusion of the 2016-17 fiscal year; only a transfer of funds from other accounts kept it in the black.
While voters narrowly approved an opt-out at the end of August that will infuse $600,000 in new tax revenue annually for five years, there is still reason for concern, Kunz said. Only half of that new revenue will be available for the current fiscal year, which runs from July to July. And while the budget includes a provision to transfer another $400,000 from capital outlay to the general fund if necessary, this is not the time to sit back and relax, Kunz suggested.
Rather, he said, the option of eliminating a custodial and music position is “in the interest of being proactive and staying on top of it.”
Freeman Public currently employs three custodians who spend their time at both Freeman Elementary, Freeman Junior-Senior High School and the larger campus, and three music teachers — one at Freeman Elementary and two at the junior-senior high school.
Between salaries and benefits, Kunz said the elimination of a custodial and music position would save the district between $115,000 and $120,000 annually.
He called the discussion “the elephant in the room.”
“It’s not something people want to talk about, but I think this would help us out four, five years down the road,” Kunz told the board. “This is the big picture.”
Adding to the urgency of the situation is the fact that Freeman Public may be forced into adding staff next school year. An incoming kindergarten class estimated to be around 30 means the district will likely have to hire a full-time aide for that classroom, and Tschetter Colony is anticipating 11 new kindergarteners who would be considered ESL students (English as a Second Language) and would be in need of another paraprofessional in that attendance center.
“That will drive up expenses,” Kunz said.
The board took no action, but provided some feedback. Board member Kyle Weier wondered if two custodians, as opposed to three, would be sufficient to keeping the buildings and campus grounds in good shape.
“Is that physically possible?” he asked.
“Yes,” Kunz responded. “I think we may have to prioritize a little more, but I think we can.”
Corey Gall told Kunz he has had members of the public talk to him “about the very things you’re talking about,” he said.
Board president Kerry Hofer said he wanted to take a closer look at the hard numbers and learn more about budgeting practices. He also suggested the district owes something to the majority of the voters who approved the $600,000 opt-out late last summer.
“Some people voted for it hoping we wouldn’t make additional staff cuts,” he said. “I want to be proactive, but the opt-out passed, and if we still go out and cut them … I don’t know.”
Kunz responded: “My fear going forward is, not only are we going to have to take all of that opt-out money, we’re going to have to borrow elsewhere.”
Saving that money long-term would allow the district to build up its general fund balance and save capital outlay dollars, which will put Freeman Public in a better position “three, four, five years down the road,” Kunz said.
A custodial position can be eliminated mid-year with 10 days’ notice. A music position cannot; those are on an annual contract. But Kunz said now is the time to look at it.
“It’s only fair to give whomever that person is ample time to figure out what they’re going to do moving forward,” he said.
The custodial staff is made up of Brian Furney, Gregg Uecker and Larry Wipf.
The music department is led by Mindee Birnstiehl, 7-12 chorus; Sonja Waltner, K-6 music; and Sheila Wipf, 7-12 band.
Boys basketball cooperative
Also at the school board’s regular monthly meeting on Monday, Kunz informed the board of a “very preliminary” discussion that took place between himself and athletic director Kristina Sage, and Freeman Academy Head of School Nathan Epp and Freeman Academy/Marion boys basketball coach Austin Unruh. The four met Nov. 6.
Kunz said the meeting was called at the request of Epp, who wondered if Freeman Public would be interested in entering into a boys basketball cooperative with FA/Marion, which currently plays as the Bearcats.
“They were very up-front about the fact that they have developed a pretty good relationship with Marion and that community, and they would want to bring them along,” Kunz told the board.
At issue for FA/Marion are low numbers for boys basketball; the 2017-18 roster will show a dozen players in grades 7-12, according to Kunz. Freeman Public, meanwhile, is expecting around 15 players in grades 9-12 for the upcoming season, with more at the lower levels — including a big sixth-grade class that will play at the junior high level.
Kunz told the board he was honest in the meeting with Epp and Unruh and said that some among Freeman Public’s constituency will be skeptical; “Why go out of our way to help you keep your doors open?” Kunz said. “That mentality is out there.”
But Hofer presented another side.
“Even though we have numbers, if we shut every door, there’s going to be nowhere to go,” he said.
Freeman Public officials also wondered about what a cooperative would mean for classification and the possibility of moving from Class B to Class A; “That could be a red flag,” Kunz said.
But Weier said “basketball is basketball. Class A wouldn’t be deterrent for me,” he said Monday night. “I don’t feel like we should end the conversation. We can’t say ‘no’ to anybody right now.”
Hofer agreed and encouraged Kunz to get additional information on enrollments, rosters and what that might mean for classification.
“Keep the discussion going,” he said.