April 18, 1997 in Nation/World

District Must Cut 15 Staffers Consolidation Funding Runs Out At Plummer, Worley

By The Spokesman-Review

FOR THE RECORD (April 19, 1997): Correction Wrong county: Worley is located in Kootenai County, and Plummer is in Benewah County. A story in Friday’s newspaper about a joint school district gave the wrong locations.

After seven years of receiving money to consolidate their two districts, Plummer and Worley now must pay the piper.

A school board decision made nearly a decade ago finally is hitting home this week in the two small Benewah County communities, where district officials approved plans to fire 15 staff members, temporarily close their newest school and possibly cut the spring baseball and softball programs.

“In a district this small, you can’t do that without upsetting some people,” Lakeside Middle School Principal Bruce Lust said Thursday.

The move has angered some Worley residents, who resent losing their school to neighboring Plummer.

Lust received his reduction-in-force notice along with nine teachers and five classified staffers this week. He’s opting to go back to the classroom and teach English and PE. The district hopes to absorb some terminated employees through retirements and other attrition.

Just six miles apart, Plummer and Worley agreed to consolidate their districts in 1990. The district’s been getting about $350,0000 annually as part of a consolidation incentive program. But the grace period ends in 1997, and the state begins appropriating money for just one district based on average daily attendance. It amounts to about $400,000 less annually than the district’s been getting. Dipping attendance levels and federal cutbacks in Native American impact money added to the shortfall. Schools on Indian reservations receive federal aid in lieu of property taxes from tribal land.

But even with budget cuts nearing $500,000, the district is still one of the most prosperous in northern Idaho, Superintendent Bob Singleton said Thursday, noting the very low teacher-student ratios.

“No-one should perceive this as the district being in bad financial shape,” Singleton said. “It’s a district that has had so much financial gravy for so long that people hate to lose that.”

People hate to lose schools, too. Recent consolidations in Nez Perce and Latah counties resulted in bitter community battles. In this case, Worley residents stand to lose their aging elementary school. A leaky roof, sinking foundation and other maintenance problems are a financial black hole, school officials say.

But the district will instead close Lakeside Middle School, shipping sixth-graders to Worley Elementary School and seventh-graders to the high school in Plummer. Lakeside is the newest, nicest school with Plummer’s only gymnasium and cafeteria, but it holds only 120 students. For the next two years, Lakeside’s gym and lunchroom will stay open for high school students a half block away. The classrooms will remain closed and unheated while additions are built to hold the district’s 300 elementary students.

“We are operating three schools for less than 600 kids and that’s just not very economical,” Singleton said. “The plan is to open up Lakeside as soon as possible as a K-6 school and that’s what’s causing all the flack. Worley does not want to lose the elementary school.”

The nearby Potlatch School District has approximately 40 more students, but operates only two schools. Three more positions would have been cut had the district chosen not to shut down a school, Singleton said. But some residents wonder why the hardship wasn’t stretched out over the years.

“People say ‘You had seven years to get ready for this, why the clamp down now?”’ Lust said.

But the district only receives as much money as it spends, Lust explained, with no option for bankrolling the extra dollars.

Earlier this year the district received $202,000 in gambling revenues from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. But the district’s auditor cautioned against using the one-time gift for anything but special student projects.

Singleton, who is retiring this year, expressed regret at ending his tenure with pink slips. But making the changes now will ease the transition for George Asan, the new superintendent who starts July 1, Singleton said.

“We want it all in place so the new person coming in doesn’t have to deal with it.”

The district plans to hold a community meeting Monday at 7 p.m. for residents to ask questions and voice concerns.

, DataTimes

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email