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School districts handle financial crisis differently

Staff writers

Marion County school board members were faced with difficult decisions when it became apparent Kansas legislators were reducing funding to districts for this school year and the 2009-10 year.

Marion USD 408 was the only school district that did not cut back on programs or personnel.

Budget cuts are inevitable for Goessel USD 411, but unlike the other four districts in the county, the district is anticipating enrollment to remain steady or increase. Other districts continue to calculate reductions in enrollment.

Peabody-Burns 398 was the first district to become proactive with public meetings in Peabody and Burns, gathering information from the public about possible cuts. Numerous cuts were made with more on the horizon.

The school year was cut by four days for Centre USD 397, saving the district money. Two teaching positions will be absorbed by other faculty instead of hiring replacements.

Hillsboro USD 410 is facing more than $400,000 in budget cuts, but has nearly $550,000 in reserves, giving the district a padding.

More specific information follows about each school district and how officials propose to offset the shortfalls.

Centre USD 397

Despite a lower budget due to a drop in state aid and projected enrollment at Centre USD 397, Superintendent Jerri Kemble is upbeat about the coming school year.

“The new dollars that are needed are manageable,” she said, “and the district will be able to continue to provide excellent educational services to students by asking all employees to work a little bit differently.”

The district is projecting a general fund decrease of $131,924, based on lowered base state aid per student and a projected decrease of 17.2 students.

With natural movements on the salary schedule and projected increases in health insurance in May 2010, an addition of $11,225 will be added to the general fund decrease.

The district also will pay approximately $4,500 for IDL (Interactive Distance Learning) services for a total decrease of $147,649.

At least two teachers — band instructor Chris Waclawik and math instructor Pat Schoenhofer — are leaving at the end of the school year, and their positions will be absorbed by other staff members. Teacher reductions, retirements, replacements, and more federal money for Title 1 will give the district $109,495, resulting in a need for $38,154 new dollars for 2009-10.

By shortening the current school year by four days, the board of education saved at least $4,000. It is looking at several areas that can be cut that do not directly affect student learning.

“We are trying to keep the cuts away from children and learning,” Kemble said. “We all just have to work a little differently, and that’s on every level.”

She noted the district will make more use of IDL classes. It broadcasts and imports several classes now and will do more of that next year.

“Schools will work more together to utilize the network, and that is positive,” Kemble said. “That’s been the key to success: small schools working together.”

Kemble said the district will continue to monitor energy usage and supplies.

“This is a time when all employees are being asked to do more,” she said. “We feel fortunate to have a great staff. I have no doubt they are up to the challenge.”

Peabody-Burns USD 398

At the public meetings Feb. 23 and Feb. 26, USD 398 Superintendent Rex Watson said the board had discussed ways to trim the budget for the current year and has approved a list of belt-tightening items should they be necessary.

Some cost-cutting suggestions included delaying bus and car purchases, textbook purchases, non-essential supply purchases, adjusting building thermostats, and ending the school year May 14 when students reach the required 1,116 hours of attendance.

Watson noted another proposal in the mix is a four-day week with Monday likely being the day cut from the school week.

At the April 13 meeting, the board also decided to sell the former vocational-agricultural/kitchen building at Burns, eliminate a bus route for junior high students after athletic practice, cancel agreement with Newton school district for vocational-technical education, and dropping a Head Start program.

More cuts were approved at a special board meeting April 24, when contracts for six teachers were not renewed for reduction in force due to budgetary constraints and declining enrollment.

Marion USD 408

Despite losing state funding, Marion-Florence USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker does not foresee any major budget cuts in the near future.

At the board’s regular meeting May 13 no staff cuts were announced. A Marion Middle School English teacher resigned, but was replaced at the May meeting.

A part-time teacher at Marion High School also turned in her resignation in April, but current part-time teacher Lisa Johnson will take on her responsibilities this fall.

In 2007-08 Marion received $4,433 per student. The state slashed it to $4,400 this year and down another $120 next year to $4,280.

With a weighted enrollment of approximately 1,100, that makes nearly $168,000 in difference from state aid in 2007-08 compared to the upcoming year.

Leiker said the district will do all it can to spend money only when it has to, but is not expecting cuts.

“We tried to be proactive and stay ahead of the challenges,” he said. “We’re watching all expenditures very closely.”

Leiker said the economy will play a role in whether or not cuts come in the future. He is thankful for the district’s state representative, Bob Brookens.

“He has done a great job of keeping the superintendents in his (district) up to date,” Leiker said.

Hillsboro USD 410

Board of education members face two serious budget issues for the 2009-10 school year and beyond. State aid cuts and declining enrollment will force the district to cut about $425,000 from its operational budget.

Estimates for 2009-10 enrollment are about 14 percent below the district’s enrollment in the 2004-05 school year. Even if state aid per student remained the same as the 2008-09 school year, the district would have to cut about $250,000.

At the beginning of the current school year, state aid per student was $4,433, but legislators cut that to $4,400 during the year, said USD 410 Business Manager Jerry Hinerman.

The state cut another $120 per student, and about $78,500 for capital outlay.

The district’s mill levy for the general fund is maxed out after an 18 percent increase during the past five years, limiting the district’s budget options.

Budget cuts

Hinerman outlined possible budget cuts at previous school board meeting.

Proposed cuts totaled $510,713, or 7.7 percent of the district’s $6.6 million operational budget.

Part of the budget gap could be filled by taking $55,000 out of the district’s $544,139 reserve fund. School districts maintain reserve funds to protect them from unforeseen expenses, said Interim Superintendent Doug Huxman.

Taking money from reserves effectively shifts budget cuts to future years, Hinerman said.

“When you use reserves, you need to have a plan to stop using them,” Hinerman said.

Administrators proposed cutting reserves because making staff cuts were the biggest alternative, Huxman said.

Among the cuts, the district can save about $81,000 from the early retirement of seventh grade teacher Joyce Loewen and high school media specialist Anita Boese, even after paying their early retirement benefits. Their positions will not be filled.

Another $37,000 savings would be from eliminating a vacant technology assistant position. The district can save about $30,000 cutting the curriculum budget.

More savings, as much as $12,000, could be realized by not replacing athletic uniforms for a year.

Some expected savings did not require any actual cuts. The district expects to save about $14,100 in legal fees since the resolution of the athletic facility with Tabor College. Another $45,000 of expected savings would come from lower fuel costs.

“We focused really hard on not cutting staff or staff time,” Huxman said.

Districts cannot use money in the capital outlay budget for day-to-day operations. That money is set aside for land and equipment purchases and construction. USD 410 has a capital outlay budget of $463,500.

Goessel USD 411

The school district will make budget cuts, but the district is on solid footing, said Superintendent John Fast.

“In a nutshell, Goessel is going to get through just fine,” Fast said.

He expects the district to lose between $54,000 and $85,000 of state aid for the 2009-10 school year.

Fast expects enrollment to remain steady or increase slightly, based on numbers of children in preschool and nurseries.

That would be beneficial, because the district has had a 16 percent enrollment decline during the past five years. The district’s full-time enrollment equivalent is 245.5 students.

USD 411 Board of Education committed to meeting budget requirements without cutting education quality, Fast said. A large part of that is keeping a full staff, because education is a personnel heavy job.

There won’t be any staff cuts, and vacancies will be filled, he said.

One cut the district will make is shortening the school year by 10 days. School will begin eight days later than usual, Aug. 27, and end two days early, May 18, 2010. It will save the school about $10,000 on utilities, especially air conditioning.

To keep instruction time the same, each school day will be 10 minutes longer.

A one-year salary freeze for all district employees will provide more savings. The district also is likely to cut classroom supply budgets by about 20 percent.

USD 411’s 2008-09 operating budget is a little more than $2 million, Fast said. With proposed cuts, it would be reduced to about $1.9 million in 2009-10.

The district has about $138,000 in its contingency fund for unexpected costs. It may need to draw on that money next year, Fast said.

Goessel’s local option budget mill levy is below its maximum, with the district decreasing slightly the mill levy during the past six to seven years, Fast said.

The school board will do what it can to avoid increasing its mill levy, but it is still on the table, he added.

“It’s tough times for all of us,” Fast said.

Last modified May 28, 2009

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