Moffat County School District releases draft options for budget cuts
Moffat County School District superintendent Joe Petrone never wanted to have to explain the two sheets of paper that he passed out to School District Accountability Committee members Thursday night.
“It’s gruesome,” Petrone said, as he handed out a draft of potential cuts ranging from $1.8 million to $2.8 million from the district’s $20 million budget.
Because of reductions in state funding, the Moffat County School District is facing a nearly $2 million deficit for the 2010-11 school year and beyond.
“It is very difficult to put all of the options on a two-dimensional piece of paper,” district finance director Mark Rydberg said. “This is a range of options to create dialogue. There’s going to be give and take. We want to create an understanding, and this is just the first push.”
School district administrators presented the first draft of potential budget reductions to teachers, followed by releasing it to the community via SDAC, a committee of parents, on Thursday night.
Discussions about the first draft will be the highlight of upcoming Parent Advisory Committee meetings for each school, which take place the first two weeks of each month.
The state has told districts to expect and budget for a 10-percent decrease in funding. Still, the exact number of cuts Moffat County will have to implement is ambiguous.
“Could it be 5 percent?” Rydberg said. “Yes. Could it be 8 percent? Yes. Could it be 10, 12 or 15 percent? Yes.”
Petrone agreed that the district’s financial future was uncertain, but it was important to begin planning and presenting as many options as possible.
“I know that uncertainty, that living with ambiguity, is difficult for most of us,” Petrone said. “We want people to understand we’re moving as fast as we can.”
The options for budget reductions include several smaller amounts of savings, like furlough days or a 5-percent salary decrease for the assistant superintendent, which could save anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. A similar reduction is proposed for the finance director, which could save $1,000 to $4,500.
Also, reducing central office staff paid holidays by 11 days potentially could save $25,000.
Limiting the distance for out-of-town busing, reducing the school supply budget and eliminating teacher leader stipends also are up for discussion.
But there are larger chunks of money also on the table, according to the draft of potential cuts.
Closing the Moffat County High School swimming pool could save an estimated $75,000.
A restructuring of counselors and paraprofessionals could result in more than $400,000 in savings.
The attrition and subsequent replacement of five retirees district-wide also could result in $175,000 in savings, if the replacements are hired at a lower pay grade, Rydberg said.
However, there are some things that are noticeably absent on the list of potential reductions.
Art, music and physical education are a few things that are deliberately not on the table for reduction.
Also, there is no mention of reducing teaching positions.
“There isn’t any option on here that indicates having fewer teachers,” Rydberg said.
Still, the 169 licensed staff members likely will not be unaffected.
Because about 85 percent of the district’s operation expenses are used for personnel, the draft of potential reductions presents options ranging from two furlough days to a 5-percent pay cut for licensed staff, which could save anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000.
Other members of the district staff of 350 also will be affected.
The draft indicates that the removal of one high school administration position — either an assistant principal or the athletic director — could save $60,000 to $90,000.
“Everything here is a sacrifice,” Petrone said. “And everything impacts the child to a degree.”
Still, Petrone said the district’s aim is to keep the cuts far away from the classroom, and that includes preserving current class sizes.
The draft of potential cuts mentions a few increases in expenses, including adding extra classes as larger grade levels advance through the district.
For example, there are 68 Sandrock Elementary School third-graders, which is three classes of about 22 students.
However, there are only two fourth-grade classes. Next year, the district still plans to look at the option of adding another teacher to the fourth grade to accommodate the larger grade and abide by the school’s class size policy.
But it will cost an additional $100,000 to accommodate these larger grades throughout the district.
“It’s the very last thing we’d want to consider,” Petrone said of allowing class sizes to inflate to save money. “There are other larger districts out there that are making decisions like that. But we want to continue to value the current targets.”
Although the school district has a reserve fund for emergency situations, Rydberg warned the SDAC committee Thursday to be mindful of the future.
There still is the possibility of another 8 to 10 percent cuts for the 2011-12 school year and beyond, Rydberg said.
“The district wants to avoid deficit spending — i.e. using the reserve — with no future plan to achieve a balanced budget,” he said.
As part of a long-term approach, the district is open to ideas for increasing revenue. For instance, the draft of possible reductions also outlines a potential doubling of athletic and book fees, and plants the seed of going to voters in November to seek an additional 5 to 10 percent in the mill levy override.
Although increasing mill levy taxes could bring in as much as $1.1 million in revenue, Rydberg said asking for an increase in tax in current economic situation is a difficult request to make.
Going to the voters is just another option on a list of what the administration sees as hurtful, but necessary changes.
“It’s just the beginning of a long, difficult process,” Rydberg said.