District upgrading despite deficit

ROARING SPRING – As the Spring Cove school board grapples with the prospect of closing a $1 million budget deficit, administrators are vowing to adopt high-tech teaching methods at the expense of small-scale and individual student programs.

Tax increases alone won’t be enough to close a potential shortfall, which stands at nearly $1.05 million, Business Manager John Clark told the board Tuesday in a budget presentation. A series of graphs showed only tiny increases in government funding while retirement costs continue to rise.

But with enrollment numbers in a downward slide, an administration overhaul and program cuts could pave the way for a new curriculum, Superintendent Robert Vadella said in a prepared statement on behalf of the board.

“We can no longer limp along and ignore the need to properly outfit our curriculum with the necessary and sufficient tools,” Vadella said.

A stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and math – a popular shift in recent years – coupled with personal technology access for each student could represent a major change in career opportunities for Spring Cove graduates, he said. Vadella’s statement referenced a “one-to-one technology strategy,” a plan that usually entails a personal computer or tablet for each student.

“Now the big question: How can we afford to do this?” he said.

The answer, according to the board’s budget plan, is to cut expensive but little-used programs that serve small numbers of students.

“At this point, we do not have any specifics on the programs that will be impacted by such curtailments,” Vadella said.

Board President Jeff Brennecke did not return a call seeking information on possible cuts Wednesday.

The board statement details the process by which programs might be eliminated: Administrators will calculate the per-student cost of each program and the number of people involved with an eye toward cutting those that operate beyond their means.

The plan is reflected in administrative changes already under way, including the transfer of Central High School’s assistant principal and Vadella’s personal secretary to newly created, districtwide positions.

Nonteaching jobs will be reviewed to determine if they are essential, board members said.

Tax increases will be considered, but specifics aren’t known, the statement reads.

“We know this approach will not be popular. … And it will disrupt out current routines, curriculum and schedules until a new normal emerges,” Vadella said.

Board Vice President Julie Mills questioned the breadth of cuts needed, with millions of dollars still available in the district reserve funds. But the depth of Spring Cove’s deficits would rapidly exhaust that savings without massive budget cuts, others noted.

The number of administrators needed to run Spring Cove isn’t what it was in past generations, Vadella said.

“I think people need to look at the number of students we had five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago,” he said. The student body was one-third larger a generation ago, he noted.

“We have to take those things into consideration across the board,” Vadella said. “We’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.