Why do local school officials seem almost offended at the idea that they should look at ways to cut the school budget rather than just adding to it year after year?
At last Monday's school board meeting, two members asked why the proposed district budget contained no recommendations for potential cuts. The answer from Supt. Al Azinger was that cuts are hard to make in a growing district because "You're going to reduce services. You're going to reduce programs."
That isn't necessarily so.
To say that every cut in the school budget would result in a reduction of services would mean that every penny of the school district budget is being wisely spent, that no improvements or streamlining are possible. It would be nice to believe that every spending decision ever made by a previous school administrator or school board was that wise, but it seems unlikely.
It seems highly unlikely that there are no programs in the district that haven't worked out as well as expected, no programs that could be scaled back or combined with other programs to reduce the amount of staff time involved in running them. Salaries account for about 87 percent of the school district budget, so looking at ways to combine tasks or streamline workloads would seem like a natural way to reduce costs. City and county governments also are facing the demands of a growing population, but they have looked at such efforts. Why shouldn't the school district?
Azinger told board members that district administrators had proposed possible program cuts to building principals but "Not once did a principal say 'That's a good idea.'" The response of the principals is hardly surprising, but it shouldn't be grounds for simply dismissing the idea that any cuts are possible without hurting the quality of education in the district.
The board currently is looking at a 21 percent increase next year in the property tax levy to support local schools. Much of that is the result of a $29.9 million bond issue approved by voters in November, teacher raises and a small increase in the state mill levy. Those increases are unavoidable, but perhaps other reductions can be found.
Board members agreed to bring proposals for possible cuts to a study session on Monday. They also will consider additional spending for new district proposals. They should try to do the best they can for children in the Lawrence district, but it doesn't hurt to also keep the taxpayers in mind.