GREENCASTLE, Pa. — The threat of deep cuts being made in order to balance the school district’s $32 million budget packed the library at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School at Thursday’s school board meeting.
With the district facing a $2.3 million deficit, Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said the board instructed him to compile a list of cuts that included cutting four teachers, 30 support staff positions (including kindergarten and noontime aides) and extracurricular activities from the middle school.
Armed with 140 signatures that she collected in three days, parent Molli Wright was the first of five to voice her concerns about budget cuts during the public comment session of the board meeting.
“It is difficult to understand why, if we’re going to cut 30 support staff, more than one-third of those positions will be in the (Greencastle-Antrim) Primary School alone. It is my feeling that the primary school is the place where this type of staffing is most needed,” said Wright, who is the parent of a first-grader at the primary school.
In the Greencastle-Antrim School District, the primary school includes kindergarten, first and second grades. Elementary school includes third, fourth and fifth grades.
Kindergarten teacher Margaret Stouffer spoke for the entire kindergarten team which attended the public comment session.
She said kindergarten used to be a place where children learned to interact with one another, socialize and learn some basic skills.
But, two years ago, Stouffer said full-day kindergarten began raising the bar on expectations and programming.
“Our students know their letters and letter sounds, they learn addition, subtraction – this is the year of many firsts,” Stouffer said.
Stouffer said it is the aides who help the students adjust to the new routines in a stress free environment.
Sydney Shepherd, president of the Greencastle-Antrim Middle School Student Council, presented the board with signatures from 488 students who felt that taking away extracurricular activities in the middle school “would be a great disservice.”
“Students will have more of a liability to get in trouble in and out of school. There may be a drop in school enrollment due to moving to areas that have extracurricular activities,” Shepherd said. “Please consider our athletes, cheerleaders, band members and singers as you make this decision that could affect hundreds of young lives. There are certainly other things you could take away that wouldn’t affect 700 students.”
Assistant Middle School Wrestling Coach Christopher Runshaw said cutting extracurricular programs from the budget is killing opportunities for kids.
“This is serious talk due to the overall budget, and it’s a shame. I look at it as you’re taking opportunities from kids,” Runshaw said.
He said his gut feeling is the smaller programs like wrestling and track and field will face the chopping block first.
“My fear is that they will look at participation levels and use that as a deciding factor and that in my opinion shouldn’t be what decides what stays and what gets cut,” he said.
With the increase of the activities fee from $30 to $100 next year, he said things are heading in the wrong direction.
“I haven’t been contacted about coaching for free. I would gladly give up my coaching salary so that money could go toward the program,” Runshaw said.
“I’m glad everybody came out and spoke,” Hoover said. “I agree with them there aren’t many cuts that I really want to make. There’s not any cuts that I want to make personally but when you’re stuck with a $2 million deficit you’ve got to cut somewhere.”
Hoover said the representatives from the district and the Greencastle-Antrim Education Association will meet on Monday to discuss the association’s proposal that was presented to the board about ways to cut costs.