SCHOOLS Salem debates cost-cutting options

The school system has nearly half the enrollment now as it did in 1977.
SALEM -- The future of two Salem schools will hang in the balance this week while the school board ponders how to make up a projected $1.3 million deficit. A vote is expected Monday.
School board members met for better than two hours Thursday to discuss cutting the budget. One of the options on the table: closing the city's middle school and Prospect Elementary.
Superintendent Dr. David Brobeck said middle school pupils could be sent to the high school and Prospect pupils could be sent to Reilly, Southeast and Buckeye elementary schools.
Brobeck noted the school system has nearly half the enrollment now as it did in 1977. Fewer buildings equal less personnel, which, in turn, require less money, he said.
But some board members weren't biting.
"Closing the buildings as a litmus test for fiscal responsibility does not fly," said school board member Cindy Rottenborn. "My goal is to balance the budget with an absolute minimum loss of jobs.
"I don't understand how the portrayal of closing these two schools is saving the money."
Brobeck disagreed. "When you downsize the operation, you don't need as much personnel. The money is in the personnel."
The superintendent's proposal would increase Buckeye Elementary's kindergarten-through-second-grade enrollment from 415 to 526, Reilly Elementary's third- and fourth-grade enrollment from 296 to 329, Southeast Elementary's fifth- and sixth-grade enrollment from 343 to 357 and Salem High's enrollment for seventh grade and up from 759 to 1,159.
"I'm against putting the seventh- and eighth-graders at the high school," school board vice president Elizabeth Thatcher said. "We could put the fourth- and fifth-graders at Southeast and the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the middle school."
Should the board elect to close Prospect Elementary only, then Buckeye will house the kindergarten and first-graders, Reilly would pick up the second and third grades, Southeast would get fourth and fifth grade, the middle school would get sixth and seventh grade, and the high school would take eighth grade on up.
"What we need to do is decide on how we want to do it," Dr. Brobeck said out of frustration. "If you don't want to close both buildings, I'll be OK with that. Whatever you want to do, I'll work with it.
"If we're going to make changes, we have to have a direction. Any of the options give us a direction we have to take. I wish there was a magic wand."
Other means the board kicked around as ideas to trim costs included limiting school-funded field trips, bus rides for the high school football team to its home stadium for home games, and some extracurricular classes with limited participation.
School board members are evaluating the options this week.
"We've got a lot of things to do," Thatcher said. "I guess we'll all make our recommendations, the superintendent will make his recommendation and then we'll vote."