School board cuts spending

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The District 55 School Board cut appropriations for long-term maintenance and early retirement, in the amounts of $100,000 each, on Monday night.

The reductions were part of a $320,000 cut to the 2008-09 budget based on 1.5 percent in anticipated reductions in state education funding this year.

Other reductions included only hiring “necessary substitutes for the remainder of the year” to save $4,000; spending reductions in “wants” versus “needs,” a savings of about $30,000; reducing technology spending by $10,000; deferring purchase of a new bus for a savings of $68,000; and a waiver from the Expanded Options program this year for a savings of $8,000.

The district can reduce the number of subs it hires this year and still get the work it needs done, Supt. Larry Horton said. The students probably won’t see a difference although staff will.

The district can also reduce what it spends on “wants,” Horton said. He used his computer as an example. It may be four years old and a newer, up-to-date notebook might be nice; but the older computer still works. Rather than replacing it, he’ll keep using the old one.

The $30,000 in savings is just an estimate, he said, but the district has money set aside to buy new computers. For the rest of the year, it will only spend money to replace broken computers.

The Expanded Options program, required by the state, sends at-risk youth to college classes, Horton said. The district can request a waiver from the program for one year.

Six students used the program last year, Sweet Home High School Principal Pat Stineff said.

The budgeted bus purchase was proposed to help handle a higher number of wheelchair-bound students this year, Horton said. The district has an older bus that it can use if needed.

The long-term maintenance fund has a little more than $600,000 in it right now, said Business Manager Kevin Strong. “This really is not true savings. It means we’ll have to spend more in the future because it won’t be gaining any interest.”

Board member Diane Gerson said she was glad the cuts are “as far from the classroom as possible.”

“I really question the wisdom of not putting that money into the long-term maintenance fund,” board member David VanDerlip said. “I’d like to break the cycle of going to the taxpayers for a bond (over deferred maintenance).”

Maintenance can preserve the life of district facilities, he said. He also expressed concerns about not transferring money to the early retirement fund.

All the board is doing, VanDerlip said, is shifting that expense to the future.

“We need to find some other ways to save some money, at least $200,000,” he said.

“I kind of agree with him on that aspect,” board member Chanz Keeney said. “I don’t where else we’d get it.”

The budgeted ending fund balance for this year is $1.2 million, approximately 6 percent of the $20.35 million general fund.

Right now, with the teachers’ contract still unsettled, it is difficult to project where the ending fund balance will be with or without the cuts, Strong said. Enrollment for funding purposes is down about 20 students, representing more than $100,000 in funds.

Next year, that figure is likely to go to 70 students, representing more than $400,000.

“You’re running a situation where you’re going to be at the 5 percent level or below knowing the cliff is next year,” he said.

The board approved the cuts 7-1. VanDerlip voted in opposition. Voting yes were Keeney, Gerson, Dale Keene, Chairman Mike Reynolds, Leena Neuschwander, John Fassler and Jason Redick. Jeff Lynn was absent.

In other business, the board:

– Appointed Dale Keene to succeed Ken Roberts, who resigned last month from position number eight, at-large.

Keene works at Target Distribution Center in Albany. He has lived in Sweet Home for 35 years and has one son, David M. Skeen, attending school in the district at Sweet Home Junior High.

He said he wants “to further the educational goals of the Sweet Home School District. I want to help make this School District the best that it can be.”

He has served on the district’s Strategic Planning Committee, the Crawfordsville Site Council and the PTA.

He is active in Boy Scouts and Highway 20 Church of Christ.

The board appointed him with a vote of 7-0.

Also applying for the position were Melany Glossa, Sweet Home District ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, and Patrick “Larry” Angland, who is retired from construction.

– Set a time of 6 p.m. on Jan. 12 for a public hearing on the Sweet Home Charter School, which must renew its contract with the district this year.