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When: Elizabethtown Area school board workshop meeting, March 8.

What happened: During a meeting that lasted six hours, administration presented a list of potential cuts to the district’s proposed $71.64 million budget for 2022-23. The school board had asked for the list so that $1 million could be trimmed from the budget to avoid a 3% property tax increase.

The list: The potential cuts, totaling about $4.6 million, ranged from $1.6 million if all bus transportation were eliminated, with an exception for special education students, to $66,850 if all field trips were canceled. Also considered were the following: eliminating all high school and middle school extracurricular activities, including athletics, for $1.2 million; $597,745 in staffing reductions, mainly through retirements and resignations, which would eliminate high school art as those two teachers are retiring; cutting the school resource officer ($86,485) and trauma/crisis counselor ($81,932); shutting down the district’s cyberschool program ($275,000); a 10% cut in supplies ($100,000); and not giving individual Chromebook devices to students in first through fourth grades ($100,000). The list also included $71,000 in potential new revenue from raising fees for student activity participation and parking and increasing athletic ticket prices.

Administration stance: Dan Forry, director of finance and operations, said the administration is not recommending any of the potential cuts, and none are tied to state or federal mandates. The budget deficit, which in November was $482,630, has been reduced to $52,000 due to some cost reductions, such as attrition salary savings and a tax base growth.

Discussion: The conversation among board members and administrators included the value of computer devices for younger students, busing costs and how teaching staff reductions could affect class size. “There’s not anything on there that I would want to see cut,” said board member James Read. “I think they’re all valuable educational things for our kids.” He noted that because of mandates, a board controls only about 25% of a budget.

Citizen comments: Several of the roughly 30 citizens who addressed the board stressed the importance of various programs, such as athletics and music, and the well-being of students. While there was sentiment against raising taxes, some were not opposed. Others wanted more targeted cuts. “Let’s keep E-town great. Please, raise my taxes,” said William Yoder to applause. Theia Hofstetter said, “It appears that all they did was look at the budget from a 100,000-foot-level and make sweeping huge cuts, mostly picking things that are unrealistic and have upset parents, students and the community,” instead of finding “smaller reasonable cuts.”

What’s next: At the March 22 meeting, board members will review each list item, taking a consensus vote on whether it should be cut, said board President Terry Seiders. Those individual items with a consensus to be cut will then be put to a roll call vote.

Book selection process: The controversial book “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” condemned in recent months for profane language and sexual content, was again discussed. Board member Caroline Lalvani said the district solicitor was consulted after concerns were raised that the book contained child pornography and violated the law; the solicitor said it did not constitute child pornography. Lalvani and Assistant Superintendent Karen Nell described the selection process and an opt-out for parents who don’t want their children to access books flagged for mature content. Board member Danielle Lindemuth said she had concerns about the district’s policy for selecting books and suggested changing the opt-out process to an opt-in one, so that only opted-in students could access those books. Nell said that an opt-in could possibly violate a student’s constitutional right to seek information. Also discussed was the process for challenging a book, which is reviewed by an internal ad hoc committee, and whether board members and citizens should be involved. A consensus vote on possibly expanding that committee, and a vote on seeking further solicitor guidance on the legality of an opt-in option, both failed 5-4. Near the end of the discussion, a few board members were at odds over parental authority versus educational expertise.

Quotable: “I am a professional father, and nobody’s going to raise my child with as much critique as I am,” James Emery said in response to Craig Hummer’s statement about relying on the professional opinions of educational experts on a review committee. Like Emery, Stephen Lindemuth said he too was offended.

Past comment: Several citizens again condemned remarks made by Danielle Lindemuth at the Dec. 21 meeting, when she said the district’s COVID-19 quarantining protocols discriminated against non-vaccinated students, saying “we are putting a little star on their chest.” They called on her to apologize for comparing mitigation measures to the Holocaust, but she did not; a couple speakers defended her. Approached during a break in the meeting, she again declined to comment.

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