The School District will complete its 2012/13 budget by the end of this month; it is a "bad news/good news" picture. The bad news is similar to the situation one year ago, when the state cut about $4 million from Warren County's funding. To close that deficit we cut staffing across the board, cut program funding such as sports, froze administrator salaries, etc.
In this coming budget we face a deficit of $5 million. Reduced state and federal funding create part of that deficit. Also significant is a +40% increase in our pension costs (the state controls the pension, and the increase is out of our hands); that extra pension cost is over $1 million. An unforeseen component is a drop in our local tax revenues (earned income and transfer tax). Besides increased labor and contract costs the other large component of our deficit is our fund balance. We will draw approximately $2 million to balance this year's budget. The fund balance is, in essence, our savings account; we cannot continue to take large withdrawals from it, and we look to balance next year's budget by leaving most of our fund balance intact.
To attack these deficits we are cutting spending dramatically. In 2009/10 the District's budget was $72,364,698. This year our budgeted spending is $67,222,484. For next year our plan is to reduce spending to $64,987,875. In the short term we have little choice but to meet the deficits by cutting spending for staffing and programs (that is, of course, the bad news). However, we have developed a long term plan to consolidate elementary schools. If we have community support for the long term plan the annual savings will exceed $2 million. Through those savings we will be able to halt (and in some instances reverse) the program and staffing reductions (that is the good news).
Let's study the bad news in some detail. In next year's budget we will again cut staff-over 70 positions in all. (Allow me to detour a moment to address the fallacy that central office administration is immune from cuts. Looking at the10 year span from 2002/03 to next year's budget, our student population will have decreased 25%. In that same time frame we will have reduced teaching staff by19%, from 471 teachers to 383. We will have reduced Central Office staff by 21%, from 69.5 to 55. These central office cuts come during a period when state and federal reporting requirements have increased.)
Significant in holding the line at 70 position cuts are contract concessions agreed to by our staff. I am satisfied to report our teachers have agreed to a partial salary freeze and an increase in employee contributions to their health care. This means that instead of cutting about 50 teaching positions we will cut about 40. Our bus contractors have also agreed to concessions, and discussions are continuing with other staff organizations. Other budget-balancing measures include reducing building maintenance, cutting supplies further, and cutting outside contractor services. Finally, we are planning for another local tax increase.
I trust that few of us citizens, or those in the employ of the school district, are happy with these measures. But on a positive note we have a creative and hardworking superintendent. He has a capable (but small!) staff; together they are providing suggestions for how we can realign class offerings to retain the integrity of much of what we offer now, even though we have less staff for delivery. While not excited about the near term, I am cautiously optimistic that the next 2 to 3 years will unfold without major damage to the quality education we now deliver.
Allow me to turn our attention to what I hope will become our "good news" story. Following the recommendation of our superintendent, our Board recently voted to make major changes to our Master Facility Plan. Under the new plan we will look at closing the elementary schools at South Street, Sheffield, Allegheny Valley, Russell and Sugar Grove. If the plan goes forward, South Street students will move to the Warren Elementary Center; A.V. and Sheffield students will move to a new pod in Sheffield; and Russell and Sugar Grove students will move to a new pod at Eisenhower.
If approved, these projects will unfold over 3 years, and when complete the staff savings will be nearly $2.5 million/year (fewer principals and nurses, more efficient use of teachers, etc.); utility and maintenance savings will be $.25 million/year; and we will avoid costly renovations at Sheffield Elementary and some of the other facilities that would be closed. Even accounting for the cost of constructing the new pods, the efficiencies we gain from consolidating will give us net savings of about $2 million/year.
This newspaper's reporting of our Board meetings is very good; but that reporting and this article cannot accurately convey all the details that are discussed at meetings. Therefore, I invite our community to attend the schools' closing hearing which will be held Monday, June 4, 2012, at 7 PM, at the Struthers Library Theater. At that hearing our administration will make a detailed presentation outlining the plan, the good and bad consequences as they see it, and our Board will then take comments from the public.
The decisions we make in the coming months will significantly shape the face of education delivery, in our County, for at least the next two decades. This Monday is an opportunity for you to learn about the options the Board is considering and to provide the Board with your suggestions, criticisms, and other input. If you are looking for that opportunity there will be none better than this Monday.