School budget upsets community

By Shannon Smith

Champaign Unit 4 school board members and administrators held a meeting Wednesday at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., to discuss budget reductions for the 2005-06 school year.

There is currently a $5 million budget deficit, $2 million of which the district is attempting to cut the first year. More than $1.6 million for the 2005-06 school year will come from reductions in personnel costs via staffing cuts.

Wednesday’s meeting was wall-to-wall with community and Unit 4 staff members eager to defend a number of the programs and people on a list of proposed cuts that became public in mid-March.

A major concern on the original list was the elimination of the athletic directors at both Champaign Central and Centennial High Schools.

Marc Changnon, Education to Careers and Professions Program (ECP) coordinator at Central and Centennial High School, said this proposed cut was the one that caught most people by surprise.

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    The community’s objection to the elimination of the positions had an impact on the administration’s decision to amend its initial plans. The recommendation to eliminate the position of athletic director at the two high schools was removed from the list of cuts after last-minute talks before Wednesday’s meeting. Instead, the administrators proposed each athletic director teach an additional class at their current pay.

    “If the public doesn’t react, they get voted in,” Changnon said. “(Wednesday night), the one thing that got back-lashed was the athletic directors’ jobs.”

    Even with the change, some community members were upset.

    Kyle Herges, physical education teacher and coach at Centennial High School, approached the board and the administration, listing nearly 70 responsibilities Centennial Athletic Director Stan Lewis has.

    “Athletics cannot continue to take these hits,” said Jon Rector, parent of a Centennial High School athlete.

    One question posed by the attendees was the need for three deans in each of the Unit 4 high schools. Aside from Urbana, Unit 4 high schools are the only ones of their size among area high schools that currently have three deans. School board member Nicole Storch responded by reminding the audience that Wednesday’s meeting began with the expulsion of eight students.

    “It’s a safety issue, ladies and gentleman,” Storch said.

    Students, parents and staff continued to approach the board with their pleas or objections to the proposal.

    Centennial choir director Marian Wyatt said she was informed at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday that she might lose one of her classes and endure a pay cut because of reductions being made in the district.

    Becky Murphy, senior at Centennial and president of Centennial’s Thespian Club, took a stand to defend the work Wyatt does with her students.

    “Know that not everybody’s passion is to be a doctor,” Murphy said, speaking on why the program was important to a number of students.

    Staff members spoke on the behalf of the library clerk positions, as well as the technical support position at Edison Middle School.

    However, school board members and administrators continuously made the point that, regardless of where they come from, cuts must be made somewhere.

    “It’s always a matter of choosing between your two favorite children,” Storch said. “Which one would you like to have?”

    The proposed reductions eliminate two administrative positions – operations director and secondary curriculum director – totaling $210,000. The reductions also cut the jobs of 15 certified positions and more than 15 classified positions, or non-certified personnel.

    Beth Shepperd, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations, said many of the employees cut will be rehired after funding resources become more definite.

    “We don’t want to lose them,” Shepperd said.

    Changnon’s position was not on the list of the proposed cuts this year. However, he said that because the program he runs is not a core academic class, he might be looked at in the future since the board has an additional $3 million to cut in the upcoming school years.

    “I think it’s okay in my book for them to look at me,” said Changnon, who serves more than 2800 kids between the two high schools. “I think I can prove to anybody that this is a viable program for kids to use.”

    Changnon said, like many are doing now, he will fight for his job if it comes down to it.

    “I found a career that I thoroughly enjoy,” Changnon said. “Instead of giving up and running away, I’ll stay put. I’m not going to give up what I’ve worked so hard for.”

    School board members met at the Mellon Administrative Center Thursday night to finalize the list of cuts to be voted on.