District leads by example with unprecedented pay cuts

By Anna Carrera

Published 04/10 2014 05:49PM

Updated 04/10 2014 06:11PM

KANSAS -- Schools around the state are going through rough times, but an Edgar County district is trying to change that around. Kansas District leaders say they've been in the red awhile. So now, staff members are stepping up to help make ends meet. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera finds out how they plan to do it.

The school's principal says they didn't want to cut teachers or staff or classes, so everyone in the district plans to pitch in by cutting their paychecks.

In small towns, like Kansas, times have changed the past few decades. But while businesses have closed, the village's biggest employer is still here.

"As people move out, there's not a lot of reason for people to live here other than it's just a solid, good school," says Ned Heltsley, who is the Kansas School Board president.

Even though the school's population has been shrinking, it's financial debt has been growing; up to $588,00 a couple years ago.

"As a district, everyone took a pay freeze to reduce the deficit, which has been successful," says Kansas school's principal Dwight Stricklin.

Even though that helped, it still wasn't enough, so the school board and teachers' union came up with an even bigger idea for the next few years.

"They agreed on a two-year, eight-percent pay cut," says Stricklin. "Four percent a year."

"We knew it wasn't going to be really popular, but we did it," says Heltsley.

"The entire school district is together on this," says Stricklin. "It's not just the certified staff, but the non-certified staff also, who are the backbone of any school district."

That includes the district's administrators, each of the teachers, secretaries manning phones in the office and janitors who keep everything looking nice. It's a big move, but one everyone here was willing to make.

"We're looking at this as, not just saving the school, but also saving the town, saving the community," says Stricklin.

There are 36 district workers taking the cut, but they're still planning a referendum in the fall to help fill the gap. It would just be for three years. The school's principal says they're working with other groups in town to lower taxes during that time to offset the cost.

If the referendum doesn't pass, the district may consider consolidating. This isn't the first time the subject has come up. 25 years ago, the district had a special meeting to discuss joining another district or dissolving altogether. They passed a referendum which saved the school. District leaders say they hope the November referendum can help them stay afloat for the next 25 years.

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