Proposed budget cuts announced

The Shawnee Mission School District announced the proposed budget cuts for the 2010-2011 school year on March 8. The cuts, along with revenue increases, amount to over $10 million. Among the items on the cutting block are 26 high school teaching positions and a counselor position as well as the reduction of the athletic director from full to half-time.

According to principal Bill Harrington, Northwest is better off than some of the other schools in the district.

“We were lucky, if there’s a way to use that word in this situation, in that we didn’t have to lose as many classroom positions as some of the other schools did. We have always kept our staffing very tight and very much within the guidelines. When you come into these tough times and you have to reduce, it minimizes the reduction,” Harrington said.

Another reason the cuts are less severe at Northwest is because enrollment will increase for next year, unlike the other four SM high schools.

Losing a counselor will mean other counselors have to pitch in to manage extra duties, according to Harrington. And having the athletic director for only half of the day means coaches will have to pick up some of the duties of current athletic director Richard Grinage. That could include tasks like sorting paperwork and scheduling practice times.

“To lose a member of our counseling staff is very difficult. We have only seven of them to begin with. That just means the people who are left are going to have to pick up the duties that are missing,” Harrington said. “The athletic director’s position is almost impossible to do when it’s full-time. Making it half-time is going to be extremely difficult. People across the athletic picture are going to have to do more to make sure everything gets done.”

If the district were to announce a Reduction in Force (RIF), it could have a huge impact on Northwest. Unlike reassigning employees, like the district has done in the past, a RIF would entirely strip staff members of their jobs.
“The decision has not been made if there’s going to be a RIF. If that happens, you just throw everything up in the air and see where the pieces land. We don’t know what the impact’s going to be because this district has never done this before,” Harrington said.

According to Harrington, the situation is dire. Next year, fewer people are going to have to do the same amount of work done in the past. If the financial situation of the district does not improve in the near future, they may have a real problem on their hands.

“It’s kind of like you’re out walking in the desert, and you see the oasis, and your canteen is less than half-full. You’re walking and you’re getting closer, but you’re drinking water at the same time. You just hope you get to the oasis before your canteen runs out. I don’t know how much longer we can go before our canteen runs out,” Harrington said. “This is very much unknown, and it’s very serious and scary. We’re going to wait and see. We have alarmed Topeka; we have alarmed our legislators; we have tried to inform our community and our patrons. Here’s the question: Did anybody listen?”

Maria Davison