School board encouraged to heed advice of advisory panel by David Lias The Vermillion School Board was urged Monday to heed the advice presented earlier this month by a citizens' advisory panel.
"Please continue to consider our report as helpful information on a difficult issue," said Sue Jones, a member of advisory group that has determined that the Vermillion community has a lack of trust in the administration of the Vermillion School District.
That community sentiment, the panel fears, will act as a stumbling block to the likely attempt in the near future of the school board to opt out of the property tax freeze.
Jones' remarks were made in response to comments that she said Superintendent Bob Mayer made at a meeting last week.
"Superintendent Mayer made clear in his remarks that he sees the community's reluctance to vote for an opt out as being the result of misperception, and asked for further clarification from the advisory board because he would like to address those concerns," Jones said.
She said the advisory board investigated the attitudes of voters to look at the feasibility of an opt out.
"We took responsibility to meet with subgroups of the community to obtain their views directly," Jones said.
The committee then used outside resources and NCA accreditation guidelines to further explore its findings, she said.
"These recommendations were not the product of a brainstorm by the committee but rather are an attempt to provide as accurate a reflection of community attitudes as we could obtain within our time frame with our personal resources," she said.
With proposed cuts in the 2002-2003 school year, which begins July 1, the school district will have $500,000 to $600,000 left in the general fund balance.
"That is the projected deficit spending next year if we do not make additional cuts or if we do not opt out," Tom Craig, president of the school board, said at the June 10 school board meeting. "At the conclusion of 2002-2003, we're pretty much going to be even, and at that point we're going to be spending in a deficit which we simply can't do."
The citizens' panel was asked to work independently without the influence of the school board or school administrators.
The panel was free to conclude that the school board should opt out for the entire amount needed, which is between $700,00 and $800,000.
It could consider other possibilities, such as recommending an opt out for a smaller amount of money, or suggesting there be no opt out at all.
The committee recommended June 10 that the school board opt out for an amount that is half the expected deficit, or $350,000 to $400,000, for a maximum of three years.
"It is our conclusion that there is not enough voter support to make an opt out for the entire $800,000 shortfall successful," Jones said. "It is also our conclusion that unless community concerns which we discovered are successfully addressed, by either considering some of the recommendations we gave in our report, or through some other plan which would restore public confidence, a $400,000 opt out is also at risk for failing."
Jones emphasized that the report given to the school board June 10 didn't contain solely the committee's perceptions.
"It was the feedback that we went out and gathered from the community, and that's the information that we passed on to you," she said.
Craig said the board understands that the committee's report reflects the Vermillion community's input.
"It's something that we're trying to deal with head on," he said, "and I do appreciate you taking the time tonight to reinforce what the committee had said to us, and make sure that, maybe if there were misunderstandings, that you clarified them for us.
"We're going to move forward in a positive manner and try to deal with those problems," Craig added, "and overcome them."
The school board will make a decision on the opt out issue next month.
Its regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 15 in the Vermillion High School library. A budget hearing will be held at 8 p.m. that night, followed by action on the opt out.