Johnstown Monroe Superintendent Damien Bawn described looming budget cuts for the district as "cutting into the bone" in a bare-bones scenario.

Johnstown Monroe Superintendent Damien Bawn described looming budget cuts for the district as "cutting into the bone" in a bare-bones scenario.

School board members spent a local "retreat" weekend on January 23-24 examining revenue and expenditure line items that make up the $14.4-million budget of a school district expected to be completely out of money by June 2011. The goal for the coming month, in light of recent levy failures is to cut $642,610 from the coming year's budget while also seeking an emergency operating levy to help stave off fiscal emergency.

During a discussion about increasing teacher-student ratios, Bawn warned that current class sizes were "what got us to an excellent rating" with the state.

"Did they get us to insolvency?" board president John Davis asked.

"No," Bawn said. "What got us there are state mandates, a lack of revenue and increasing expenses."

Expounding on that theme, board member Polly Moore said "a criminal state funding system" and local levy failures have backed the district into a corner.

"When you have the state saying we must get the majority of our funding from our local taxpayers, with a nod and a wink to the taxpayers, saying, 'But you can vote not to do it' we don't have a prayer of making ends meet, and our children lose out big," Moore said.

Moore and her fellow board members are no strangers to budget cuts. J-M cut $250,000 from its budget in 2007, then trimmed an additional $250,000 in 2008. During those years, items like 11 supplemental positions (academic and athletic), three aide positions, one elementary teacher, elementary physical education, a School Resource Officer (SRO) and social worker were eliminated.

Now on the line are possible reductions in teaching staff, extracurricular/supplemental positions and academic programs. (See related story this page.)

J-M Treasurer Tammy Woods said the district last brought in new tax money in May 1990. That 9.8-mill issue was renewed in 1994, then passed as a replacement at 8.6 mills, and was finally replaced by an income tax in 2003.

"That (income tax) wasn't new money," Woods said. "It replaced old money rolling off, so 1990 was your last new money. We've held on by our fingertips for 20 years."

As administrators work to come up with a plan for both levy revenue and the budget cuts that must accompany it, board members try to re-think how the district pays for everything from copy paper to custodians.

The board is expected to vote on putting an emergency operating levy on the May ballot at two meetings, on Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 in the high school library.

Some discussion of possible cuts will take place at the board's regular Feb. 9 business meeting, but a detailed list is not expected to be ready until later that month.