School district bracing for budget cuts

While the numbers are in flux, School District 55 is bracing for budget cuts for the 2009-10 school year, including likely reductions in teaching staff.

The board and administrators will meet in a work session on April 13 to discuss budget reductions.

While figures remain unknown, the district has already taken steps to reduce spending, according to a document prepared by Business Manager Kevin Strong for the Feb. 9 School Board meeting.

“Recent news reports forecast that statewide tax revenue will be over $2 billion short of the amount necessary to maintain current service levels during the next two years,” he said. “This means state agencies and school districts will need to trim spending.”

Already, the School Board has chosen not to transfer $100,000 into the district’s long-term maintenance fund as originally budgeted. The board also held off setting aside $100,000 into the district’s early retirement liability fund.

The business office did not fill a payroll position after an employee retired, he said. The print shop has reduced labor hours due to productivity improvements. Crawfordsville has reduced heating costs with the installation of energy-efficient windows, and many school employees have limited purchases to necessary items, reducing district supply expenditures. Substitutes are called only when necessary.

“All of these spending reductions help,” he said. “However, larger reductions are expected as we look ahead. We have now received warning that the state’s shortfall is growing. Therefore we are looking at all areas for potential savings.”

District officials do not expect the federal stimulus package to offset the upcoming reduction in state funding.

Other districts are already dealing with declining revenue projections, he said. Central School District sent a 90-day reduction-in-force letter to staff warning of deep and severe cuts.

In Cascade School District, employees have agreed to take a four-day pay cut and shorten the school year. Supply spending has been reduced by 25 percent.

Silver Falls School District has asked staff members to negotiate a shorter school year and reduced salaries.

South Lane School District is cutting school days and staff.

“Our district has made it a priority during relatively healthy economic times to carry over some funds from year to year in order to help sustain us over difficult times,” Strong said. District 55 has not had to announce sizable cuts yet as a result.

“We are now using our carryover to help sustain us,” he said. “However, we are concerned that we did not set aside enough carryover given the magnitude of the economic slowdown. We also do not want to spend all of our savings in case conditions get even worse.”

In many ways, the district is bracing for a one-two punch, he said. In addition to declining tax revenues, the district is facing declining enrollment, down by 84 students from January 2008 to last month. That represents an additional $500,000 decline in revenue for next year. At the same time, staffing levels have actually increased.

Counting kindergarten students as half a student for funding purposes, the district had 2,313 students in 2005-06. This year it has 2,157, not counting the Charter School. The district currently has 128 teachers, up from 122 in 2005-06 and 155 classified staff, up from 144. It has maintained 19 administrative, supervisory and confidential staff members.

“Our hope is that we can reduce some staff positions through retirement rather than with layoffs,” Strong said. “Therefore, we are waiting to see how many employees decide to retire this school year.”

District officials also are awaiting a state revenue forecast at the end of this week to help plan possible cuts.