O-D Superintendent Discusses Cost-Cutting Efforts, As School Board Considers Referendum

Residents of the Oregon-Davis school district are calling on school officials to explore ways to cut costs before asking voters for a property tax increase. Some of those in attendance asked if the corporation’s 555 students really justified two principals, as well as all of the corporation’s support staff.

Superintendent Dr. Don Harman explained that there are a lot of state requirements that each principal has to deal with. “For a building principal to evaluate, for example, 20 to 25 teachers, it takes all year, and you’re in those classrooms all the time,” he said. “So to have one principal, our principal would be required to evaluate 40-plus teachers, and that’s just part of their job.”

Similarly, school officials explained that having both a treasurer and an assistant treasurer helps ensure that money is being handled properly and no funds go missing. But Harman emphasized that school officials are looking closely at all employee groups.

Some residents suggested looking to another local school district for ways to move forward without a tax hike. They felt that North Judson-San Pierre seems to be doing well, in spite of the failure of its own referendum a couple years ago. That led to a “right sizing” initiative that involved cutting several staff members, including teachers.

Harman said Oregon-Davis has already been working on several cost-savings initiatives. “Since I’ve been here, we have reduced custodial staff,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we have reduced teachers. Since I’ve been here, we’ve reduced food service staff. We’ve reduced food service hours. This year, I did reduce one bus route; I combined the bus route. And then we finished out installing some energy-efficient lights.” He said he’s also saved the corporation money by restructuring the teacher evaluation process and opting out of the formal New Tech program.

With declining student enrollment, residents also asked if consolidation with other schools has been considered. Harman said school officials have discussed it, but it’s not exactly an easy solution. “When people talk about, ‘Oh, well Oregon-Davis should just consolidate,’ you have to have two willing parties that want to consolidate. The other point, then, would be, for example, Muncie and Gary, financially, the situation there, as bad as they are, they’re still open. And so, when you talk about closing, you just can’t take the keys of the district and go down to the state and throw them on the desk of the Statehouse and say, ‘We’re closed.'” Harman said he has talked to Knox school officials about cooperating on transportation issues.

The Oregon-Davis School Board is exploring the possibility of a property tax referendum next year, to replace a tax increase that’s set to expire in 2019.