Board Members Discuss Budget Plan

summary of the special board meeting held on February 21

The USD 497 Board of Education held a special meeting on Monday February 21 to discuss budget reduction options. 

During the meeting, chief academic officer Patrick Kelly, announced three phases to achieve the 3.85 million dollar budget deficit.

In order of priority, phase one would aim towards combating the budget deficit, phase two would attend to other priority goals and phase three would enforce long-term restructure to align with the current budget. 

The board would vote on cutting items to save the $3.85 million deficit. The district will present a list of proposed budget cuts at a special meeting during the week of March 7 or on March 23; During this meeting, the board will evaluate options and, on March 28, make final decisions. The votes will be cast based on impact on students and staff, and equity of the community. 

“My priority is in understanding what the impact is on the students,” Board member Kelly Jones said. 

The purpose of the phases is to identify and prioritize budget cuts. The cuts that will be made during the first phase will affect the other two phases. 

Within the meeting, the results of the ThoughtExchange poll were revealed, with many in the community theorizing that cutting administration pay may help with the budget deficit. However, Zachary Conrad, Executive Director of Data and Technology, compared the district’s administration to that of nearby districts. While USD 497 is smaller than most surrounding districts, the administration is disproportionately smaller in comparison. 

The ThoughtExchange also revealed animosity from the community towards Superintendent Anthony Lewis. A high-rated comment suggested that Lewis has hired administrators through nepotism. 

“It’s sad that I have to even defend this,” Lewis said. “How racist can that be perceived? Do all Black people look alike? Are all Black people related?” 

Board member Shannon Kimball was frustrated with the results of the poll. 

“I’m struggling to see how any of the information pulled from the ThoughtExchange is going to be useful to me as a board member,” Kimball said. “People spent all this time ranking stuff that’s factually inaccurate.” 

While the board is still examining different ideas, the removal of schools in the community is not an option the board is currently considering.

Decisions on specific budget cuts will be made in the coming weeks.