Granite City Community School District officials had mixed emotions on Election Day on Tuesday.
School district leaders were happy Bill McMasters was elected to join the School Board and two of its board members — Bev Scroggins and Carolyn Yates — were re-elected.
“I’m very pleased that two incumbents who were running for the board got re-elected in Mrs. Scroggins and Mrs. Yates,” Granite City Superintendent Jim Greenwald said. “That will create some stability. I’m very pleased at the announcement that Mr. McMasters will be joining us at the board.”
But school district officials were disappointed the education fund rate increase referendum didn’t pass. Out of 5,662 votes, 54 percent of them (3,042) opposed the tax increase.
“We need to move forward and I’m taking the approach like an NFL coach does after a win or loss,” Greenwald said. “You take that evening to sort of decipher it and go through it and the next morning, you wake up and start preparing for the next game. Our next game is to finish school this year, which we will, and to have a successful school year next year.”
The school district was looking at an increase in the maximum rate of 80 cents. The increase would generate $3.8 million per year of additional revenue for the district.
Greenwald said had the referendum passed, additional revenues will be used to maintain and sustain current district obligations and services. But because it didn’t pass, the district will attempt to borrow money and implement drastic cuts.
“Naturally, there’s disappointment,” Greenwald said. “We put a lot of time and effort into this and we thought we had a pretty good chance. I feel that we had a lot of positive momentum going into this, but we put it in the hands of the voters and the public basically opted not to do this.”
Greenwald said the school district has been struggling financially the last several years due to lack of state funding.
“If we were getting what we should from the state, we wouldn’t be having this state of being right now,” Greenwald said. “In the two years that I’ve been superintendent, we have not spent a dime of unnecessary money. It’s been a very tight belt and you can tighten it so much and you’ve got to have money to spend. When you get $19.5 million from the state every year and you got a $60 million budget, that really doesn’t pay the bills.”
Since 2011, revenues and expenditures have decreased in the education and operations and maintenance funds. General state aid has decreased more than $2 million per year, costing the district $8.5 million in general state aid and an additional $3.5 million in transportation, totaling $12 million. Property value has decreased 11 percent, costing the education fund $1.5 million and the operations and maintenance fund $300,000 per year.
The district also reduced 49 staff members, borrowed $10 million and closed one school — Niedringhaus Elementary.
Greenwald said the district began campaigning on the tax referendum on Nov. 13.
“My plea to them (the school board) was we’ve got to try to generate some local income,” Greenwald said. “We also went into this knowing that if 80 percent of this doesn’t pass, there’s nothing more we could do. We did presentations to the city council. Every principal (in the school district) gave presentations in their respective buildings. I gave presentations to senior citizens, civic leaders, rotary club and civic organizations. I spoke to the City Council. I don’t think there were any avenues of communication that we did not pursue.”
Greenwald said the district could be making some cuts by the 2016-2017 school year.
“We talked about all of the cuts we made through attrition,” Greenwald said. “We try to save as many jobs as possible. We cut as much as possible through attrition. We’re going to continue doing that. We’ve already had some meetings looking at staff for next year without looking at deep cuts. As we told the public in the presentations, at the immediate moment, we’re going to do the best we can to hold steady for next year. There could be some major changes, not necessarily next year, but the year after because the board has done a great job of making what I call transparent cuts. There are really no more transparent cuts to make. That’s why the $3.8 million per year that we would have gained in this referendum would really allow us to maintain and sustain our school system. Right now, it’s going to be a major challenge.”
Scroggins and Yates finished with 2,793 and 2,737 votes, respectively, in the Granite City Board of Education election results. Scroggins is the president and Yates is the treasurer.
“We’re happy that they’re both re-elected,” Greenwald said. “They’re very good serious board members. We’re going to need their guidance and leadership.”
With 2,301 votes, McMasters was elected as one of the new members of the Granite City school board, which also includes vice president Meghan Daily, secretary Jerry McKechan and members Matt Jones and Kathy Hagnauer.
“We knew that we were going to have at least one new board member because Mr. (Ron) Dillard is stepping down,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald said McMasters, a dentist in Granite City, has been proactive with the board throughout the tax referendum campaign.
“I’m looking forward to working with him,” Greenwald said. “He’s a very bright guy. He cares about the school district and I think he’s got the right intentions in mind.”