Yellow Springs school board— Possible budget cuts eyed
- Published: February 3, 2011
This week, the Yellow Springs school administration will begin drafting a recommendation to make significant cuts to the district’s 2011–12 budget, partially based on input from the schools and community that Superintendent Mario Basora has received over the past several months. Over 30 community members attended a public finance forum at the high school last Wednesday, Jan. 19, to share their views and hear the perspectives of school leaders, including Basora, Treasurer Dawn Weller, teachers’ union president Vicki Hitchcock, and staff union president Nancy Bussy. At the forum, villagers had more questions than advice to give about the budget, and several expressed a need to see the recommendations in order to dialogue about the issues.
In a short presentation, Weller summarized the financial picture of a district whose expenses began exceeding revenue by about $600,000 last year. If nothing changes, in two years the deficit spending will climb to $1 million and the district will begin to operate with a negative cash balance, she said. The school made some small cuts this year, according to Basora, but the current goal is to get serious and reduce the school budget by about $500,000 in order to extend the district’s cash carryover (created several years ago by a one-time corporate tax payment) by one more year into 2014. And given that the district currently spends 90 percent of its revenue on salaries and benefits for personnel, when best practices advise 80–85 percent, some of the cuts will likely come from reducing positions, he said.
“This is not an ‘us versus them’ scenario, it’s not the administrators versus the teachers,” Basora said during the forum. “All of us are working together against the problem, which is financing the schools -— it’s critically important that we stay together as a community on this.”
Basora illustrated some budget reduction options, including a potential $170,000 savings if six employees who are eligible to retire do so. An additional $200,000 savings also could be had by freezing the annual wage and 1.9 percent step increases teachers currently receive, and by cutting the school district’s share of employees’ health insurance premiums by 10 percent, Basora said.
Illustrating three other cost-cutting scenarios, Weller calculated that assuming the wage and step freeze, an additional reduction in 2.5–3 staff positions would net a $300,000 savings for the district. Eliminating approximately four positions would result in $400,000 savings, and eliminating about five positions would save the district about $500,000.
From the community, Basora shared ideas and opinions he had gleaned from the dozen citizens and over 50 teachers and staff members he had spoken with over the past two months. For budget cuts, eleven people suggested cutting one of the two bus routes, a few advocated reducing school board support staff, while others suggested eliminating professional development and teacher classroom budgets. For maintaining program, about seven emphasized the need to maintain small class sizes, while six spoke for the arts programs, and a few supported maintaining all-day kindergarten and Greene County Educational Services. About as many people felt strongly about keeping the music and gifted/advanced programs as cutting them.
Forum participants discussed ways to reduce the average annual $30,000 the school spends on post-secondary education options (PSEO), which allows students to attend university classes for dual high school and college credit. Parent Jim Grote suggested that advanced courses could be taught by professionals in the community, which would alleviate the budget and also attract more students to the district.
The idea of raising revenues also arose during the meeting. A handful advocated for charging school fees, going for a levy increase, and creating a new development office to increase revenue streams. The group also talked about outsourcing into the community programs such as physical education, health and art, whose required content is flexible according to the state. And Weller said the district was investigating how to raise open enrollment numbers, as well as cost-sharing with other districts, reducing course offerings or reducing staffing and benefits.
Budget cutting measures are critical now because the closer the district comes to running a negative balance, the more it risks being taken over by the state or being consolidated with another district, Basora said during the meeting. Local parent Virgil Hervey railed against that idea and stressed that the schools are the core of the village.
“I can’t think of anything worse than losing our schools or being forced to consolidate with another school system,” he said.
The school plans to schedule another public forum next month to hear concerns from the community before the budget recommendation is due to the school board at the March 10 board meeting. Basora continued to urge individuals to share their concerns by scheduling an appointment at the board office or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have less than two months to make reductions, and this is the chance for the community to weigh in,” he said.