With expected budget cuts looming, the Douglas County School District is looking at possible reductions in middle school sports and gifted and talented programs, and freezing district salaries or even layoffs.
At a special Douglas County School Board meeting last month at Douglas High School, Superintendent Carol Lark presented 20 possible budget cuts to the board.
The school board will not make final decisions until February.
"I have given many presentations in my career, and this may go down as the worst, not the presentation itself, but the subject matter," Lark said. "I am hoping the economy improves, but I am the world's greatest optimist."
At the meeting, Lark discussed saving $180,000 by restructuring and reducing staff at the district office.
Lark and other top administrators have already agreed to freeze their own salaries.
"It is the most painful process I have ever been through," Lark said. "All of these scenarios are reductions in services."
The school district has been on a roller coaster ride since the state started slashing budgets last year due to falling tax revenues.
"We're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," said Sue Shannon, George Whittell High School principal.
The elimination of middle school sports was discussed at the meeting, a measure that would save $75,000.
"My estimate is that 200 to 225 students in seventh and eighth grades participate in sports," said Michael Rechs, teacher and basketball coach at Carson Valley Middle School. "It is no small impact. Middle school is a battleground. Sometimes you lose the kids. The lessons learned from athletics are strong and valuable."
On Monday, Shannon said middle school sports programs would have to be redesigned to lower the expense. Right now transportation is a major expense of the sports budget, and one solution is to reduce transportation costs.
Board members suggested alternatives at the meeting.
"Pay for play is very common throughout the U.S.," said board member Keith Roman. "The schools could have fundraisers to help out those kids who couldn't afford it. The main thing is trying to preserve those programs. It's either that or don't have them."
The elimination of the gifted and talented program, which would save $154,000, drew the most concern from parents at the meeting.
The gifted and talented program is being considered for cuts, but none of the proposals is set in stone yet, Cauley said. Right now the schools have to wait to see what the state and school board decide.
Shannon said Whittell High School doesn't have a gifted and talented program because students can choose to take advanced placement and honors courses to challenge themselves.
David Sando, 11, a sixth-grader at Jacks Valley Elementary School, pleaded with the board to not cut the gifted and talented program.
"Smart kids drop out just as much as regular kids because they get bored," he said.
David's mother, Amy Sando, was also among about 150 people who showed up at the meeting.
"My kids struggle daily to overcome boredom," said Sando, a teacher at Douglas High School. "As a taxpayer, I do not spend money for my kids to go to school and sit on their hands."
Others were not as eager to protect the program.
Heidi Downs, a computer servicer for the district, said the gifted and talented program disrupts the classroom by removing a small portion of the population and drawing distance between them and average students.
"You can't constantly try to make everyone happy," she said. "If there has to be cuts, this is one of the better ones recommended."
Looming throughout the meeting was a possibility much more difficult to swallow: Layoffs.
"Looking at the reality of this, it looks like reductions in force will be needed," said district human resources director Rich Alexander.
Alexander said the district would do everything in its power to save jobs, leaving vacancies unfilled and combining positions.
" Tribune staff writer Sara Thompson contributed to this report.