The Appoquinimink school board unanimously approved $304,500 in spending cuts Tuesday that district officials say are needed to help prevent a budget shortfall next year.

The Appoquinimink school board unanimously approved $304,500 in spending cuts Tuesday that district officials say are needed to help prevent a budget shortfall next year.

Included in the cuts were nearly 20 programs and line items affecting administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students.

Although district officials have not released the dollar amounts of each individual cut, one of the biggest hits is expected to come from an approved, 8-percent reduction in direct annual funding allocated to each school.

Cuts affecting district employees also will include the elimination of summer hours for nurses and some school counselors, tuition reimbursement for administrators and secretaries, as well as reduced funding for a professional development program called Yale Fellows.

The cuts also will directly affect some parents and students through a 5-percent increase in pre-kindergarten tuition for students who do not qualify for subsidies, the elimination of the Parent Academy and the end of Move-Up Day, which allows fifth and eighth graders to visit middle and high schools before making the transition to a new school.

Other cuts include a halt on the purchase of cameras for school buses, leaving four unfilled teaching positions vacant next year and the discontinuation of a year-end staff cookout, the teacher of the year dinner and an annual dinner for retiring staff members.

"I don't want anyone in the audience thinking these cuts are easy or they're stuff we don't think are important for staff and our kids," said Superintendent Matthew Burrows, whose own budget for supplies, travel and other expenses was cut by the school board. "They are important, but to survive … we had to make these tough decisions."

The spending cuts approved Tuesday are the second step in a three-part plan the school board is pursuing to avoid an anticipated $2 million shortfall next year.

The first step was approved March 27 when the school board voted to keep Townsend Elementary School, which was closed this year for renovations, shuttered for an additional year, while also temporarily closing the Appoquinimink Early Childhood Center in Middletown through the 2013-2014 school year.

District officials say those closures will save the district $645,000 next year.

The final step in the school board's plan will be entirely up to voters, who are being asked to approve a May 9 referendum on that seeks to raise the district's current school tax rate of $1.60 per $100 of assessed property value by 15 cents.

That referendum will come just four months after voters defeated a proposed 31-cent hike in the school tax that would have been implemented over four years.

The May 9 referendum would raise an additional $2.79 million a year, while the combined spending cuts would save the district another $950,000.

District officials say the $3.74 million in net funding would cover anticipated shortfalls, restore previous spending cuts on textbooks, technology and building maintenance, while meeting the state-mandated minimum in reserve funding to cover at least two employee payrolls.

"I want to reiterate that these are cuts we are making to get to that 15-cents," school board president Julie Johnson said Tuesday, referring to the referendum. "That does not mean that if the referendum passes, we can re-instill these."

Conversely, other school board members warned that much deeper cuts would be required if the new referendum does not pass.

Last month, Burrows presented the board with a laundry list of possible cuts he said would be needed if the referendum fails, including laying off for 36 full-time and nine part-time employees, as well as the elimination of some language programs, reductions in student athletics and extracurricular activities, and increases in building-use fees for the public.

"Nobody likes to cut the budget, but we can't spend money we don't have, and all the alternatives were worse than this," school board member Richard Forsten said after Tuesday's vote. "Now we've got to pass that referendum."