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School budget cuts: $2 million, 26 jobs

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Committee addresses revenue shortfall

By Todd Martin

The Shelby County School Board on Thursday approved almost $2 million in cuts for its 2013-14 budget that could result in the loss of 26 positions across the school district.

Acting on recommendations from the its budget committee, the board approved about $2.2 million in cost reductions, but other adjustments left total savings in the general fund at almost $1.9 million.

Board member Eddie Mathis made the motion to accept all of the committee’s recommendations, including the idea of a $200,000 mini-contingency that would be invoked if any of the cuts prove too severe. Allen Phillips seconded, and the recommendation was passed unanimously without further discussion.

Based on continued cuts in state funding and federal grants through the past several years, Superintendent James Neihof had commissioned this budget committee with the goal of going through the district’s budget line-by-line to see what benefits students were receiving with every expenditure.

The committee, led by Neihof, Director of Finance Greg Murphy and board member Brenda Jackson, also included representatives from the district and schools.

After last month’s first look at the 2013-14 budget, the committee was charged with finding a minimum of $610,000 to cover the expected General Fund shortfall and the funding required to cover two additional professional development days, which the board had approved last year.

Armed with these recommended changes, the district now will begin to study the expected student growth and teacher placement for 2013-14 school year and present a tentative budget to the board by May 30. The working budget will not be approved until September, after the district has an average daily attendance to report to the state.

“What we’ve done is probably unprecedented in this district, at least going back to the mid-nineties,” Neihof said of the committee’s intricate review. “Our concern is that we’ve overlooked something [that could be cut] or that we’ve been too aggressive in some areas.”

The amount saved will more than cover the projected shortfall and provide the necessary funds for the two additional professional development days. It also may be sufficient for the board, at Neihof’s request, to consider a pay raise for employees next year and help the district weather more potential economic hardships in the future.

More than half of the cuts, almost $1.3 million, came from three groups that directly affect those in the classrooms, including increases in student-teacher ratio and loss of teaching and aid positions.

A total of 26 positions throughout various areas would be cut, but Neihof said he expects many of those individuals to be retained in other areas.

Once the student population growth is calculated, the district will begin the teacher allocation process, and with significant student growth expected, more teachers will be needed. The district also would have the option of not filling positions that are left vacant from retirement or educators’ leaving the district for other jobs.

“I expect that number to be much closer to even when the staffing allocations is finished,” he said.

The positions

However, while the total number of positions could end up being close to even, there are jobs that will not be filled. Among the proposed cuts are:

  • Four Read 180 (reading specialist) teachers, whose positions will now be included in the allocations, so principals will have to find room in their individual budgets to retain the positions.
  • A .5 music teacher from each high school. Both high schools are currently budgeted for one music teacher.
  • One foreign language teaching position from Southside Elementary.
  • Up to 10 special education teaching positions.
  • Between seven and eight special education aides.
  • Three teaching positions for fourth grade through senior.
  • Pay scale changes for substitute teachers and changes to the long-term substitute pay plan.

Some of those positions will be created by these adjustments in student-teacher ratios:

  • Fourth and fifth grades change to 24.5:1 from 23.6:1.
  • Sixth and seventh grades, to 24.7:1 from 24.5:1.
  • Eighth grade through senior class, to 25:1 from 24.7:1.

“I know these don’t sound like significant changes, but with some of the other changes included, it’s bigger than you think,” said Greg Murphy, district director of finance. “With some of the other positions, like the Read 180 teachers, being moved into the allocations, if principals want a Read 180 teacher, they’ll have to find room in their budgets for them.”

Special ed changes

Special education was most affected, and that was mitigated by the district’s moving teachers to larger caseloads. The state sets caseload maximums for special education teachers, which varies based on the disabilities of the students they serve, and based on those state regulations the district determined that it was overstaffed.

“We’ve been staffing in a way that fewer students were in a teacher’s caseload than can be expected based on state regulations,” Murphy said.

And he said that was because the district was leaving a lot of room for growth in special education areas.

“We were surprised at the change [how much variance] if we were to go to state regulations everywhere,” Neihof said. “We had a period of time where, I believe there was some over identification going on. Now, with those numbers reducing and moving on, and with our move closer to state regulations, then we had several positions that could be cut.”

Other large cuts in the proposed budget include:

  • A $55,000 reduction for bilingual aides.
  • A $180,000 reduction for technology funding, which eliminates grant matches.
  • A $125,000 reduction in intelligent classroom funding, instead finishing the project through a one-time unmet needs request.
  • A $100,000 reduction in roofing projects, reducing recurring yearly funding to $25,000 and using one-time requests as needed.
  • A $107,000 reduction in departmental budgets, reducing office supplies, equipment, contract services, etc.

Some additions

Along with the decreased funding, the recommendation did call for increases in some areas, which would help cover some of the larger decreases.

The increases requested are:

  • $28,000 for a Reading And Math Proficiency (RAMP) Coordinator, which would be a position partially funded by United Way and would organize after-hour events.
  • $26,000 to add 1 hour per day to school secretary contracts at elementary- and middle-school levels.
  • $6,000 for an additional .25 custodial position.
  • $12,000 to increase Maintenance Apprentices’ contracts to 260 days from 200.
  • $1,000 increase to help attract more Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP) mentors.
  • $200,000 addition for recurring funding for bus replacement.

New board member Karen Sams tried to sum up the board’s feelings on the cuts and the commitment to balancing the budget without funding increases.

“I think this is great,” she said just before the motion to approve. “I think it’s something that needed to be done.”