Granite School District will be beyond painful cuts and into "severing body parts" if voters pass the tax initiatives that will be on the ballot this fall, Superintendent Loren G. Burton told board members Tuesday. The district is the state's largest.
The board held a three-hour study session to determine how they could deal with significantly reduced budgets should the initiatives pass. The tax reductions would cut approximately $23 million from the district's financing.Burton presented $39.6 million in options the board might have to choose among.
Increasing class sizes by five students per teacher could save $7.4 million, Burton said. Shortening the school year by two weeks would cut $4.3 million, and reducing administrative contracts would save $320,000. Cutting assistant principals at the five elementary schools that have them and in the secondary schools would trim $1 million.
Other budget targets most likely to save large amounts of money would include eliminating kindergarten ($2.8 million); a 50 percent reduction in vocational education programs, ($3.4 million); discontinuance of the driver education program ($450,000); cutting elementary instrumental music ($760,000); elimination of gifted/talented programs ($210,000); replacing year-round school with double sessions ($140,000 per school).
Eliminating kindergarten, however, would create another problem, Burton said. It would remove students from schools that barely meet the state's 70 percent utilization requirement, leaving 15 of them with too few students. The district just had to go through the painful process of closing one school to get its east side into line with the state requirement, and it could be looking at closing four to five more if budget cuts materialize.
A lengthy list of other potential areas that might be reduced or eliminated included language programs for non-English minorities, cutting busing for elementary children within a mile and a half of school, reducing special education programs for handicapped students, discontinuing the career ladder program, which provides incentives for teachers, reduce or discontinue counseling services, eliminate busing for field trips, activities and athletics and cutting back on custodial and maintenance services.
Dan Jones of Dan Jones & Associates, which does polling for the Deseret News and KSL, told the Granite Board that if the election were held now, the initiatives would pass.
"It's way too early to think they're going to be defeated. Research doesn't show that." Jones predicted, however, that as voters learn what impact the tax cuts would have, the sentiment will shift and the initiatives will be defeated.
Jones said 40 percent of teachers polled support the tax initiatives, but he expects that support to diminish as the educators learn how the cuts could affect their jobs.
Ongoing polls of the populace in general show more of those in the "undecided" category shifting to a position in opposition of the measures, he said. "But the change has not gone as rapidly as I thought it would."
Board Member J. Dale Christensen said he is concerned more about the impact on children in the district's schools than on the budgets themselves. "I can't even begin to fathom, can't put a monetary amount on the impact (these cuts) would have on the children. That's what it's all about."
The board members agreed it is imperative to start a grassroots campaign to inform the public about the significant impact the tax cuts would have. Committees should be formed at each school to help in the education effort, they said. A telephone campaign will be conducted by groups including the Granite Education Association, which represents the district's teachers.