While Hilliard school board members claimed cutting employee positions was the toughest decision they have ever made, the president of the teachers' union said they sent the message Monday night that extracurricular activities are more important than direct educational instruction.

While Hilliard school board members claimed cutting employee positions was the toughest decision they have ever made, the president of the teachers' union said they sent the message Monday night that extracurricular activities are more important than direct educational instruction.

Board president Denise Bobbitt and fellow board members said it was difficult to cut 38 teaching positions across all grade levels, five administrative and 50 support positions when they are people they know.

"It makes redistricting pale in comparison," she said of the difficulty in taking action on a proposal first presented by Superintendent Dale McVey on April 14.

Board member Doug Maggied described the action taken Monday night as a "sad day."

Maggied said he talked to former school board members and they said they too made cuts in the past, but never found it necessary to cut people from the budget. "I guess it's a sign of the times," Maggied said.

He and the other board members were attempting to trim $4.49-million dollars from the $147.5-million general fund budget.

"This is not an easy thing for any of us to do," he said.

Lisa Whiting, also a board member, said it was the most difficult decision she has ever made in her life.

"I wish there was something more we could do this evening," she said before the unanimous vote of 5-0 was taken to cut employee positions as well as programming and 5 percent from all department and building budgets.

Each individual, whether it is a teacher, administrator or noon aide, eliminated, she said, touched someone else's life.

Board member Andy Teater said he hopes the voters support the next levy campaign so further cuts are not necessary.

In November treasurer Brian Wilson said to be in the black for the next three years, the board needs to make reductions of $3.9 million in fiscal year (FY) 2009, followed by $18.2-million in FY 2010 and a $3.1-million deficit in FY 2011.

Rick Strater, president of the Hilliard Education Association (HEF), said no extracurricular positions were cut before the certified and classified staff members.

"Why cut the very heart of the educational program?" asked Strater, who is still engaged in negotiations with the board. "Why not start with non-academic cuts such as reducing funding for athletics, altering bus services and/or making equitable administrative reductions? Cuts in educational programs never heal. Our students will be paying the price for the board's decision for years to come."

The voters in March, he said, did not know what they were voting on when they turned down the levy because they were not told in advance precisely what cuts would occur.

Strater also took exception to claims that five administrative positions were cut.

Two administrative cuts, a coordinator of school community relations and the director of Gifted Services, will be done by the end of the school year, he said, while two sixth-grade assistant principal positions will be phased out over a year.

The athletics director at Bradley High School is a "ghost" position, according to Strater.

"There is no Bradley High School and there is not athletics director at Bradley High School," he said, referring to the planned opening of a third high school in the fall of 2009. "How much was saved on the teaching positions never created or budgeted?"

Strater said the board acted to cripple the educational future of Hilliard's students with its vote to eliminate teaching positions, resulting in a reduction in force of teaching and guidance positions.

Eighty-eight percent of the budget is wrapped up in labor costs, McVey said previously, and the district had no choice but to make cuts in those areas.

The day he presented the proposal for cuts to the board, he said, he hopes a levy will pass before Bradley opens.

He refused to speculate on how future cuts will affect the opening of the new high school.

Camp Joy Outdoor Education Experience, offered since the sixth-grade building concept was developed, was one program on the list of cuts.

Parents Carrie Duckworth and Lisa Ford pleaded with the board members to reconsider eliminating the program. Ford suggested the board continue offering the program by having parents pay more or by hosting fundraising events.

Bobbitt said board members have heard several comments about Camp Joy, with many people recommending that they turn to private businesses or research grants to fund it. "We have to make reductions and this is one of the things on the list," she said. "We are open to hearing options."

Cami Bowman lobbied on behalf of the assistant principals at the sixth-grade level. Too many children, she said, will slip through the cracks without having the positions in place.