In a 7-2 vote Tuesday night, the Elizabethtown Area School District Board of Education decided not to make the nearly $5 million cuts the administration originally proposed at the March 8 board meeting.
After three hours of public comment and another half hour of board discussion about the cuts, CEO Terry Seiders asked if the board would rather vote no to all the cuts. All but Danielle and Stephen Lindemuth voted against removing the items presented, which included athletics and the arts program. The Lindemuths were among five board members originally in favor of reviewing a possible $1 million budget cut.
“I’m disappointed,” said Stephen Lindemuth after the meeting. “I think the theme of the night was to come here and actually do the hard work and make the hard decisions. And unfortunately the board was not ready for that.”
At a Jan. 11 meeting, board vice president Michael Martin asked the administration to identify potential budget cuts of $1 million — an amount roughly equivalent to the district administration’s proposed 3% tax increase for the 2022 budget. 23 of $71.64 million.
In response, at the March 8 board meeting, the administration presented potential cuts totaling nearly $5 million, such as: B. with transportation, the school resource officer, crisis and trauma counselors, and all extracurricular activities including middle and high school sports.
Martin said he never intended to cut back on buses, athletics or the arts.
“I don’t think the board has ever had a chance to fix these things,” he said, expressing concern and a lot of emotional energy from our community. Honestly, it’s brought a lot of attention to our school district… I’m frustrated with the process.”
Over 70 community members came to Elizabethtown Area High School before the meeting to protest these cuts. Students, parents, grandparents and taxpayers alike put up signs and made music.
“I’m here because I want the kids in this district to have the same opportunities that my kids have,” said Elizabeth Garber Lewis, a parent of Elizabethtown graduates. “I fear that with the current board, those opportunities will be denied.”
Opportunities are not what the board wanted to rule out, said James Emery. He said he would have preferred to see cuts like buying cheaper toilet paper.
“Obviously we don’t want to lose any buses,” Emery said. “Obviously we don’t want to lose our fabulous law enforcement staff. That suggestion was ridiculous… It just felt like a slap in the mouth.”
Emery urged the administration to be more transparent and provide a detailed breakdown of potential cuts.
“Let’s see if there’s somewhere we can tighten the screws, and if we can’t think of anything, great.”
In response, Seiders said if the board wanted to make cuts, that was the board’s responsibility — not the administration’s.
“We’re not going to hit a million dollars trying to figure out which supplier is going to get this cheaper toilet paper,” Seiders said. “We’re not going to achieve that by cutting parts that small.”
“We shouldn’t be standing here”
And it’s the potential big cuts that have prompted members of the Elizabethtown community to protest — and even bang the trumpet in solidarity.
They certainly caught the attention of passers-by as well. Cars drove by, honking their horns in support. A few stopped on the street and rolled down their windows to learn more.
There was only one protester who advocated tax cuts through budget cuts who declined to speak to the LNP | Lancaster Online.
Elizabethtown Area High School juniors Ryan Corwin and Keren Ezedebego protested cuts to sports. Crowin is a cheerleader and Ezedebego plays basketball.
“We shouldn’t be standing here trying to fight for things that we should have access to,” Corwin said.
It’s a fight that even the administration didn’t seem to want.
Elizabethtown School District spokesman Troy Portser said the administration did not support any of the cuts.
“We’re just responding to the request (from the board),” Portser said in an interview with the LNP | Lancaster Online last week.
The motion said any cuts found would be in addition to, but not including, the $700,000 in operating costs the district is saving by closing Rheems and Mill Road Primary Schools. The board also requested that the district advance its new junior reserve officer training corps program.
As it stands now — not including $1 million in cuts — Portser said the district is “in balance” with a gap of about $52,000 between expenses and income. However, the proposed budget includes a 3% tax increase.
Some parents at the protest said they would welcome the 3% tax hike rather than cut programs.
Sue McDonald, a mother of two in the district, said she would be okay with higher taxes and that there are ways to help those who cannot afford a tax increase.
“I’m concerned about the direction of our school district as a whole,” McDonald said during the protest. “The fact that we continue to try to cut services rather than improve them is definitely worrying.”
Elizabethtown Area High School student Adrian Grosh appeared at the protest with a few of his peers. When the cuts were first introduced, Grosh launched a petition to save student activities, which has garnered over 1,500 signatures in the past two months.
“The school isn’t just a service to its students — it’s a service to the whole community,” Grosh said. “Taking money away from it is not a good way to serve the community.”
Over three dozen parishioners spoke to the board, some against tax increases and others against budget cuts.
Resident Robert Hoehn asked the board to vote no on all budget cuts, including a possible cut in the school’s technology program, which provides laptops or tech devices to all students.
He said the negative impact of the cuts far outweighed the money saved.
“Let’s move from our quest for gold-plated toilet seats that we can eliminate from the budget without ill effects to our quest for other imaginary things like horcruxes, goblins or critical race theory to be taught in the classroom,” Hoehn said.
However, some speakers felt that surpluses needed to be cut.
Resident Tina Wilson said management knew the proposed cuts made no sense and would not be adopted by the board.
“The proposed budget cuts are totally unrealistic and fear-inducing,” Wilson said.
“They have done exactly what the government wanted: hysterical parents who are so afraid that there will be no sporting events or buses that they are now begging for an increase in their taxes.”