School board eyes $10 million in cuts
With the threat of decreased funding from the state, the District 196 school board heard three adjustment proposals for the 2009-2010 operating budget.
Asked to present scenarios detailing cuts of $8, $10, and $12 million dollars, superintendent John Currie presented the board Monday with three plans to cut $9.2, $10.1 or $12.1 million dollars.
The cuts are separate from an already planned $9 million spend down in the district's general fund balance. This year, the total budget for the district was $345 million, with an operating budget of $297 million.
Currie and the administration recommended accepting the $10.1 million adjustment. The board will vote on the measure April 13.
"This is not an amount of money in terms of our budget that is going to, I think, directly impact a great deal of programs across this district," Currie said. "It is a start in terms of being reflective of what's going on and what we see coming."
All three options also include an expected $2.5 million enhancement from a federal economic stimulus package.
However, the district has to set its budget without knowing the level of funding it will receive from the state.
Facing so many unknowns, the board is cautious of making too many cuts.
"We've always had a conservative approach of not building in any expectations for the future," board member Bob Schutte said. "If that changes we are in better shape. That is a mitigating factor in going with the largest reduction, which would impact staffing ratios. I hate to do that at this time."
Due to enrollment decreases, there was already a planned cut of 11 positions within the district. The recommended $10.1 million option cuts an additional 35 positions.
The largest plan, which includes the most dramatic cuts to jobs and programs, would mean 82 fewer jobs in the district next year.
But, both Currie and the board seemed hesitant of making too many personnel and program adjustments.
"A few of us have been through a few of these adjustments, and what I find interesting is each time it gets harder and harder because the easy things to cut are all gone," board chairperson Mike Roseen said. "There are not a whole lot of things to take out of this budget without impacting class size. It doesn't hurt to look, but I think we have looked at everything we can."
The first two proposals include limited effect on personnel adjustments and programs.
"Nobody could really come through with a program that we feel doesn't have merit and that we feel we don't want to support," Currie said. "So we tried to look at this without facing class sizes or programs. If we go to over $12 million, we have to recommend changes to the ratios."
The board recently approved the sale of bonds to cover the long-term cost of post-employment benefits. The administration believes the change will save the district $2.8 million.
"It is money the district set aside for this purpose," Currie said. "Now the issue has been addressed in a different way."
The reduction in budget assumptions for employee agreements would equal a $1.79 million cut according to the proposal. There is also a possible $800,000 cut in benefit costs of purchased staff. Each individual building has the option of appropriating money to purchase additional staff. This is aside from the budgeted amounts from the district. In the past, as a cost-saving measure, the district would then pay for the benefit costs.
In the new proposal, the district would no longer account for the benefit costs.
"These are things that we used to do to make things run smoothly across the district," Currie said. "I instructed our directors to bring things like that, that are not required at the site level. They were done just to make things run smoothly. We no longer have the luxury to do that."
The largest adjustment would include cuts to staffing ratios and other positions. In the $12.1 million proposal, a $1.5 million adjustment was made to change staffing ratios to 0.6 percent. It would mean a cut of 27 positions. The largest proposal also includes a reduction in district office administration, school administration, instructional clerks, and other clerical staff accounting for a $500,000 reduction.
But Currie's proposal would avoid the largest adjustment.
"We think these things make sense for us," Currie said. "At this point, there are so many things unknown in school funding. Every two years we have to make these decision without knowing what will come from the legislature."
The board also approved a measure for teacher retirement incentives.
The district has only received two notices of retirement at a time when it normally has dozens.
Through a state initiative, this one-time incentive allows the district to deposit an extra $10,000 into a health savings account for staff that is eligible for retirement, has been with the district for 15 years and announces retirement by April 15.
Staffing considerations for the following year must be completed by April 15.
"It will help people bridge the gap and make a retirement decision early enough so that we can benefit when we look at our staffing," Currie said. "It allows us to make better decisions."