Tough decisions may await district — Budgeting process begins with state funding still uncertain




On Monday, USD 457 began developing its 2014-15 budget during a budgeting work group meeting at Garden City High School.

Committees of teachers, parents, community members and district staff have been going over budgets for each of the district's 15 departments. On Monday, the groups made presentations identifying how each department would handle two different funding levels, the same funding as this year or a 2 percent cut.

After hearing budget proposals, members of the committees ranked from 1 to 15 their preferences for what order to make cuts, if and when necessary.

The rankings will be tabulated by staff in the next few days and will be used by the USD 457 Board of Educatoin later when putting together next year's budget.

The goal is to provide the school board with a prioritized list of areas to cut when it starts to prepare next year's budget.

Last year, more than $800,000 in savings were recommended, and not every department budget had to be cut. This year, if all 15 departments took a 2 percent cut, it would mean an overall budget reduction of $1.2 million.

But heading into next year, the district is looking at about $1.4 million less than this year, according to K.J. Knoll, USD 457 financial officer.

"There are a lot of question marks heading into next year," she said. "There are a lot of things we just don't know."

Knoll said there are a lot of unknowns right now about future school funding, but, assuming funding remains the same, the budget will face challenges due to expenses that tend to go up every year for things like salaries, utilities, insurance and supplies.

Although some numbers are still uncertain, the district estimates it will receive about $100,000 more next year in per-pupil funding, and about $236,000 more if all-day Kindergarten is funded. However, Knoll said, the district expects to lose about $1.92 million in new facilities weighting.

For two years, the district received about $2 million in additional state aid for the new high school, which ends when the current school year is over.

"At this point, this is our best guess," Knoll said. "What do you do when you're continually asked to do more with less? We have to make tough decisions."

USD 457 Superintendent Rick Atha said after the presentations that a 2 percent across-the-board cut to every program would mean the district would be looking at losing about 20 positions, including paraprofessionals, secretaries, teachers and administrators.

"It's been a difficult four years. Eighty to 85 percent of our public school budget is people. We're in the people business," Atha said. "This is painful, and our legislative folks have got to wake up."

Atha wishes a few legislators had been able to attend Monday's meeting to listen to the passion expressed and the hard work put in to the process. He said the school board is going to be faced with some tough decisions in preparing and prioritizing next year's budget.

"There's just an awful lot of unknowns that we don't know yet," he said. "Legislators are trying to work the budget right now, but they haven't made any decisions."

Program budgets represent about $59.87 million of the district's overall $116 million budget for this school year.

The 15 department budgets and their current funding level, funding with a 2 percent cut and potential cuts include:

* Counseling: $1,339,770 now; $1,312,975 at 98 percent; includes cutting one-half of a counseling position.

* Health services: $902,732 now; $884,677 at 98 percent; includes cuts to available staff hours.

* Activities: $936,601 now; $917,869 at 98 percent; main area cut would be athletic training services, currently contracted with Sandhill Orthopedic & Sports Medicine.

* Middle school instruction: $7,740,715 now; $7,585,901 at 98 percent; includes cutting three classroom teacher positions.

* Technology: $2,864,611 now; $2,807,319 at 98 percent; includes a variety of changes to service contracts and a reduction in supplies and materials, and also keeping more laptops in circulation for longer periods.

* Curriculum/assessment: $826,364 now; $809,837 at 98 percent; much of the reduction could be accomplished by changing to a different product used in assessments.

* Special education: $10,994,803 now; $10,774,907 at 98 percent; cuts would include one teaching position and seven paraprofessional positions, possibly all from Garfield Early Childhood Center.

Karen Johnson, director of special education, said special education is the district's most regulated department, and cuts there could be long-reaching and have devastating consequences, including opening up the district to potential litigation, as well as the effect on children.

"All of the research tells us that early intervention has the biggest impact on school success in the future," she said. "It helps with drop-out rate, ... behavior and social skills kids need, teen pregnancy rates, all those things from the pre-school level on."

* District-wide administration: $1,939,504 now; $1,900,714 at 98 percent; includes cuts to election services, legal services, postage, telephone allowance and in-district travel line items.

* Transportation: $2,143,376 now; $2,100,508 at 98 percent; possible scaling back of some maintenance expenses, potential reductions of field trips and activity trips depending on fuel prices, and keeping buses in service longer before being replaced.

* Plant facilities/maintenance: $5,359,131 now; $5,251,948 at 98 percent; cuts could be made in personnel, contractual services and materials.

* Supplemental services/bilingual and ESL: $2,442,712 now; $2,393,858 at 98 percent; at both funding levels, proposes eliminating a half-time administrative assistant/classified position and using funds to support an increased need for Burmese and Somali translation services. A 2 percent reduction would mean cutting two paraprofessional positions, leaving 9.25 para positions to cover the district's 3,650 English Language Learner students.

* Elementary instruction: $10,746,543 now; $10,531,612 at 98 percent; cuts would include two teaching positions and not buying new textbooks as often.

* Media services (library): $1,116,300 now; $1,093,974 at 98 percent. Reductions include both days of service and buying books and periodicals.

* High school instruction: $6,367,041 now; $6,239,700 at 98 percent; includes decreases in lunch duty, overtime, supplies in the music department, equipment, night school, tutoring and vocational equipment line items, as well as eliminating a paraprofessional position and reductions in the supplies and textbook rental fund line items.

* Building administration and secretaries: $4,122,059 now; $4,039,618 at 98 percent; cuts proposed include one-half of a principal position, one secretary position and in office supplies.

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