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Two dreaded words: budget cuts

They have to be two of the most hated and dreaded words that politicians at all levels have to face: budget cuts.
Those words came up at Monday night’s Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board meeting, and they were met with predictable reluctance and resistance.
The school district has been fortunate the past several years in that even when the budget has not balanced between revenues and expenditures, the school could dip into its reserves to cover any deficits, thereby preserving — and even increasing — educational programming.
But even two years ago, at this time of year, the administration warned the School Board that the trend of using its fund balance to cover the deficit would not, and could not, last forever.
Well, this year, the district ended up with about 34 students less than anticipated. Not a huge number when compared to a total enrollment of 1,547, but remember: the state bases its funding to school districts on the number of students. That loss of 34 students equates to about $200,000 less in revenue, and that dollar number is pretty significant.
The state already has a pretty complicated funding formula for schools, but one could contend that it be based only in part on student numbers. It costs X amount of dollars to operate a classroom, regardless of whether there are 15 students in that room or 22. Perhaps a formula based in part on standard operating costs — utilities, maintenance, cleaning, etc. — and part on student enrollment, would be a more equitable way to fund schools.
However, the state has not been particularly successful when it comes to school funding reform, so GSL will have to play the hand it was dealt.
At Monday’s meeting, of particular concern to School Board members, was a suggestion that the fifth- and sixth-grade music program be cut.
If one wants to see the success of the GSL music program, just turn to page 3 of this week’s Chronicle: 100 GSL musicians competed — and did very well for themselves — in the state-section music contest.
You can’t argue with the success of the GSL music program. Nor can you ignore the economic numbers. We simply cannot afford to go back to the days of being in statutory operating debt and making huge slashes in the budget that compromised the successful education of our district’s children. The School Board members back then were wise in their decision to set a minimum fund balance to make sure the district would not fall into statutory operating debt again. The present School Board should do its best to adhere to that.
As an administrator said at the meeting: it’s best to trim a little now than to “drop the hard hammer” down the road.
The board has a tough row to hoe: balancing the preservation of programs with the preservation of its budget. That’s why we’re glad they are getting an early start on the process.