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School proposes budget cuts

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Last week the Yellow Springs school district released the cuts to the 2011–12 budget that the school board will consider at its meeting tonight, Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m. at Mills Lawn school. The cuts, recommended by Superintendent Mario Basora, reflect a total of $437,000 in savings aimed at buying more time before continued deficit spending creates a negative cash balance for the district. The current cuts are expected to keep the district cash positive until the end of the 2013–14 school year.

The cuts reflect Basora’s goal not to eliminate any part of the educational program, but to reduce the scope of the existing curriculum. He recommends cutting a total of 5.1 full-time equivalent positions by reducing hours for a total of nine employees, some of whom are retiring, and letting go of just one position, that of the orchestra conductor.

The cuts include a 12 percent reduction, or about 30 school days a year, from the position of one school board secretary, who supports both the superintendent and the treasurer. Also a 21 percent reduction is recommended for the position of special education supervisor, currently a three-quarters position that will become a half-time post. Reducing half of a Mills Lawn counselor position and half of a Mills Lawn gifted ILE teacher position is also recommended.

Currently the district’s orchestra conductor fills a seven-tenths position, which Basora recommends eliminating altogether. The orchestra program would continue at both Mills Lawn and the high school, under the management of the two other music teachers in the district.

Further cuts include one McKinney/YSHS P.E./health teacher, a position eliminated by attrition whose work will be managed by combining sections. Reducing 57 percent of a McKinney/YSHS social studies teacher position by attrition would allow the school to eliminate several classes by combining sections. And the reduction schedule also includes cutting half of a McKinney/YSHS business education teacher position and a full-time Mills Lawn aide position by attrition.

Further savings through programmatic cuts include eliminating the district’s Greene County Educational Services Center contract that provides gifted, special education, psychology, speech, occupational and physical therapy services, saving $75,000 per year. The district is also looking at new copier and trash removal contracts that would save $15,600 per year.

Due to teacher union rules governing staff reductions, the changes are most likely to affect the specialists in the district with the least seniority, and could bump an employee currently serving elementary students up to the middle or high school level and vice-versa, Basora said. And because the special education supervisor is currently employed through the GCESC, once that contract is eliminated, the special ed position will be refilled at fewer hours and paid directly through the schools.

While many employees are likely to feel the pressure of a reduced staff, the board office and its administrators will also take on their share of the burden with the secretarial reduction, Basora said.

We will all “pick up more work, but we feel we have to do our part to shoulder our part of the burden,” he said.

Coupled with cuts made last summer and this year’s five retirements, the total budget reduction from 2010 to 2012 will be $675,000. According to district Treasurer Dawn Weller, the ultimate goal was to extend the district’s cash carryover as far as possible to see if the economy and the state funding recovers. And for next year, even with the current slate of cuts, the district expects deficit spending to total $619,000, draining the cash carryover from an estimated $1.67 million at the end of the 2011–12 school year down to $984,000 at the end of the 2012–13 school year and $91,000 in the hole by the end of the 2012–14 academic year, according to updated numbers for the five-year forecast.

According to Basora, a few parents and community members have suggested that the district consider asking the community for a bridge levy to support the schools through the economic slump. And if current trends continue, Basora said, a levy “is something that we may need to seriously consider over the next year, given our reality.”

“The numbers point to needing to raise revenue drastically in relatively short order,” he said.

The district’s financial backslide in 2009 began with reduced income tax revenue and state funding caused by the recession. And state funds may continue to drop by as much as 20 percent from their 2009 level over the next two years, Basora said. Special federal funds received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and School Fiscal Stabilization Funds (SFSF), totaling $289,000, will also be phased out over the next two years, according to Weller. Those funds were used to cover most of the cost of the orchestra teacher and a gifted teacher, plus one special education teacher and the Title I intervention specialist, who is retiring at the end of the year.

And while retirements yielded the biggest savings for the district, the incentives and sick leave severance that will be paid out mean that the district won’t see any savings until 2012–13, Weller said. Meanwhile, employee healthcare costs and step and salary increases continue to accrue and compound.

“It has been quite a difficult task to devise a reduction plan that realizes the savings as quickly as possible, yet doesn’t turn our existing operation inside-out,” Weller said. “The goal is to remain in the black for as long as we possibly can, and right now, that is barely even for the next three years.”

Basora will officially recommend the budget cuts to the school board tonight, and the board has until April 30 to approve and notify employees of nonrenewing contracts. The board will then enter negotiations with the teachers and staff unions, and aims to approve a budget before the next school year starts. The board officially has until Oct. 1 to approve the budget.

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