?Community Conversation? fosters civil exchange

Most of the 100 chairs were filled Thursday evening at the ?Community Conversation? with Unified School District 410?s Board of Education and its superintendent at the Gordon Mohn Community Center at Hillsboro Elementary School.

At the public meeting, USD 410 patrons asked questions and gave feedback regarding cuts under consideration to cover a $300,000 budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

?With massive projected state deficits in the current and future years?our challenge is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,? said Steve Noble, superintendent.

Following his presentation on ?School Finance 101,? an overview of how school funding works, Noble joined board members Eddie Weber, Rod Koons, Dale Klassen, Gary Andrews, Mark Rooker and Joe Sechrist, who arrived later, and State Rep. Bob Brookens to answer questions, respond to suggestions and provide background regarding the crisis in school funding.

Clint Seibel, who works as the city?s economic development director, served as moderator for the evening.

A tone of civility defined the meeting, evidencing itself in the types of questions asked, opinions expressed, suggestions made and responses given.

Questions ranged from the rationale in choosing which sports to consider cutting to clarification regarding teacher negotiation issues to reduction and contracted services for the district.

Asked how decisions were made about which sports to consider cutting, Noble said, ?There was a method to our madness, and it wasn?t reached easily.?

Middle school wrestling and high school softball, baseball, golf and boys? and girls? tennis were listed as possible cuts.

Three primary reasons were: how recently sports were added, the number of students involved and whether facilities were owned by the district.

A patron commended the board for putting athletics on the list.

Board member Rod Koons said while activities, such as music, drama and student organizations, are important to student learning, ?We can?t be everything for everyone.?

Questioned whether pay cuts for administration and teachers had been considered, Noble said, ?Yes, but we want to offer competitive pay to have the best people here.?

Jona Baltzer, former HHS teacher, spoke on behalf of other seniors.

?We need to start paying for what we want,? he said. ?Have we thought of paying now to reap later??

The audience responded with applause.

Among considerations discussed at the state level, Brookens said consolidation of small school districts works best when it comes from the community rather than imposed from the outside.

?Districts need to look at those questions themselves,? he said. ?(At this time), Kansas is not ready to consolidate.?

Noble said the board would take action regarding the cuts at its regular April meeting.

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