Local schools face cuts of $1.1 million

School District 55 officials thought they were heading into the new year with the only cuts due to declining enrollment, but after hearing the latest state funding projections last week, they learned they’ll have to cut the district’s budget for 2010-11 by 9 percent €“ $1.1 million.

The projection last week was $576 million less than the projection in March, including a $14 million shortage in cigarette tax revenue. The state projects the district will receive $12.5 million in state revenue, down from $13.6 million.

“Up until Wednesday, I was pretty much in favor of going with the idea that if we kept our operations steering toward needs and not wants we could maintain what we have this year into next year and be OK,” said Supt. Larry Horton in an email to staff members.

“I must now switch that belief. We will now need to move into a survival mode for next year. This is a severe reduction in funds, which means we will be facing major reductions.”

Administrators were planning to meet on Tuesday to look at reduction lists, compile suggestions and prioritize reductions.

The Budget Committee will meet on Monday to look at the resulting proposal for reductions.

Most likely, the reductions will cut into staffing levels and the number of school days, Horton said. “It’ll depend on what the priorities really are.”

Examples of probable cuts include two transfers that do not have to be made this year, including $50,000 each into long-term maintenance and the early retirement fund, Horton said. “Unfortunately, the rest of the reductions aren’t going to be so easy.”

Horton has heard suggestions from four or five staff members so far, he said. So far, the most popular suggestion seems to be cutting a few school days.

Each school day costs about $65,000, Horton said. Still, the district can’t cut as many days as it would need to balance the budget €“ 15 or 16 days.

The days will have to be cut here and there, he said. “There may still be some classes that still have to go. Nothing is sacred at this point in time. We need to look at all areas of the district budget.”

While doing so, reductions should have the least amount of impact on students as possible, Horton said.

The district already cut a little staff in the 2010-11 budget because of declining enrollment, Horton said. It also cut its carryover from 9 percent to 3 percent of the budget, which would leave a $600,000 ending fund balance on June 30, 2011.

On May 26, with the news just hours old, the district’s negotiation team withdrew its compensation and benefits proposal from the bargaining table with the district’s teachers’ union.

“We had minimal offers to start with, and we withdrew them,” Horton said. The bargaining teams still had positive negotiations and were able to resolve some language issues.

The district had offered no salary increases for the first year of the new contract followed by a 1- to 2-percent increase in the second year based on inflation.

It had offered an increase of $35 to insurance benefits, to $915 per month. The most expensive insurance option for staff is $1,587 per month, including medical, dental, orthodontia and vision. The lowest, including all four types of insurance is $1,004 per month. The lowest-cost plan is $876 per month, including medical only.

The teachers had proposed a 2- to 4-percent increase in salary, based on the consumer price index, Horton said. That was a reasonable starting point in normal times.

“I do believe it’s a sign teachers are understanding we’re in tough times, and we need to work together to solve it.

“In Sweet Home, what I’ve seen over and over again, when there’s a crisis, people pull together, and we’re in a crisis.”