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ACGC makes small additions to music, art

COSMOS -- A preliminary budget approved this week by the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District includes a reduction in expenditures of about $200,000, yet makes additions to the district's music and art programs.

The slight addition in staff for the music and arts was a small consolation for years of deep cuts to those programs.

In recent years, the district also has cut other high school electives and made reductions in staff as part of a plan to get out of statutory operating debt. A district is considered to be in statutory operating debt when its budget deficit exceeds limits set by the state.

The preliminary budget approved Monday night includes expenditures of $9,818,062.

The preliminary budget revenues are slightly less, at $9,742,431.

Business Manager Dan Tait said he used a "conservative" revenue picture based on student enrollment.

He also did not factor in money the state has promised to provide schools to replace one-time federal stimulus money that helped districts get over the financial hump the last two years.

Because it's not known what action the Legislature will take with education funding, Tait said he proposed a conservative budget regarding revenues that will likely need to be revised once more information is known.

Board member Joel Gratz said the budget is built to "survive the storm" if state payments go down or if enrollment decreases. He said it's "realistic and doable" while providing some opportunities for the district.

Not all the board members were pleased with the decision to increase spending for music and art.

Scott Stafford said if the district was going to add back programs that had been cut in the past, he would have preferred the revival of the family and consumer science classes, sometimes known as FACS or more commonly as home economics.

He said that teaching basic life skills would be more valuable to more students than music and art.

The board needs to "take a good hard look" at curriculum and "what we're teaching our students," Stafford said.

Chairwoman Judy Raske said it was very difficult for the board to cut its highly respected music program as part of the $1 million in cuts the district made to get out of debt.

The cuts "really devastated our music program," Raske said, adding that efforts had been made to restore music and art in the past but the funds were not available.

With revenues from increased enrollment and the operating levy, and steep cuts that nicked the district to the bone, she said the district is in a slightly better financial position and can slowly add back programs.

"To me the music program right now needs a lot of work," she said, adding that there was a demand for more high school electives like art and music.

Stafford said ACGC's music program may not be at the level it was before, "but maybe it's enough." He said there are other ways children can have opportunities in music education, but school may be the only place to the gain practical life skills taught in family and consumer science classes.

Stafford said he thought those classes would help students "get through those tough years ahead of them" more than a music class.

Superintendent Sherri Broderius said it would be expensive to restart the family and consumer science program and difficult to find a part-time teacher.

"We would love to bring FACS and the other $1 million cuts back," said Broderius. "We have hit every department in the high school over the years."

Broderius said some of the family and consumer science curriculum, like values, choices and conflict resolution, are being taught in other high school programs and changes could be made to incorporate even more of those types of courses into other programs.

Even with the part-time hours added to music and art, the district will still be not be up to the full level in art that it was before the cuts were made, said Broderius.

"We're taking little tiny baby steps forward," she said.

In other action:

- The board was informed that the Pioneerland Library system will be leasing space at ACGC South Elementary in Cosmos for its summer reading program. The city library was destroyed in a fire earlier this year. The program will be located in the school's music room and be held Thursday afternoons in June, July and August.

- Starting this fall, drivers education classes will not be conducted as part of the school curriculum but will be offered through the community education program.

- The board heard a brief update to the new federal school lunch program that will require schools to increase fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins and decrease carbohydrates. Lunch prices will likely increase because of the changes. Vegetables from the school's garden will supplement the food program.

- The board was informed that the district's Youth Energy Summit team won a recent competition among area schools and was awarded $2,000 in prize money for their innovative and energy-savings projects that ranged from installing LED lights in exit signs to making a rotating composting bin to compost leftover food from the kitchen.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750