Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 20, 2013

Fairfield facing budget shortfall

BENTON — Fairfield Community Schools will have to tighten its belt again. The corporation is facing a budget shortfall between $160,000 and $175,000, and the solution is cutting teacher’s jobs.

Superintendent Steve Thalheimer told the board Thursday that there are four areas the administrative team is watching: kindergarten to first grade at New Paris, third grade to fourth grade at Benton, first grade to second grade at Millersburg, and the Building Trades program at the junior-senior high school.

“As much as it pains me to do it in my first six months as superintendent, I think we have to let people go,” Thalheimer said. “I don’t know how we’ll survive otherwise.”

The elementary classes have three sections, and would likely go to two based on enrollment numbers.

“Our target has been to try to keep the primary grades not much larger than 22 to 24,” Thalheimer said. “That may have to be something that is reviewed and reconsidered.”

Thalheimer said he does not want to have to go to larger class sizes, but does not feel the corporation has many options based on decisions being made in Indianapolis.

“We have to figure out how to take care of ourselves because nobody else is going to do it for us,” he said.

The building trades program only has three or four Fairfield students registered for next year, and for the first time, West Noble will be sending their students to a vocational program in Kendallville instead of to Fairfield.

Fairfield is in a vocational cooperative with West Noble and Wawasee schools, and Thalheimer said he had no indication that West Noble may be pulling out until this week. He is still trying to make contact with administrators at West Noble to determine the future of the co-op, which also includes West Noble students who come to Fairfield for cosmetology.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” he said.

Members of the building trades board were in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, and lobbied the board to keep the program, Thalheimer said.  He said his goal will be to work with the building trades board, and either maintain the program as it is, or suspend it and make it part of a larger conversation on Fairfield’s vocational offerings.

Wawasee has its own building trades program, so the Fairfield students who are registered for next year would be able to attend Wawasee’s program by nature of the co-op. The building trades board does have a home to build next year, but a contract has not been signed yet.

Thalheimer said there may be other options for cooperatives with other Elkhart County schools, and Fairfield may be able to accept students in exchange in cosmetology or agriculture.

Final recommendations on staffing for next year will be presented at the May 23 board meeting.

In other business

The board heard a presentation on the corporation’s safety priorities. Thalheimer said they want to add a card swipe system at Benton and the junior-senior high school, which New Paris and Millersburg already have.

All of the corporation’s buildings would also receive a camera and intercom system at main entrances and receiving doors. The system would require visitors to be buzzed into the building.

The cost of those systems, as well as replacing doors at Millersburg to accommodate them, is more than $100,000. A final recommendation will be presented to the board May 9. Thalheimer is hopeful by then there will be word on a bill that would allow districts to apply for a $50,000 matching grant from the state to hire safety personnel or to make security upgrades.

The board also approved a project that will install wireless internet in all four of the corporation’s buildings. The cost is $101,507 and will be paid out of the capitol projects fund. Work will start this summer and should be in place for the start of the new school year, according to Andrew England, technology coordinator.

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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