Starting Point

While there has yet to be indication that mass personnel furloughs will highlight budget season for the Warren County School District, the picture still isn’t pretty.

The school board was briefed by administration about the status of the situation during a special meeting held prior to committee meetings on Monday at the Warren County Career Center.

Earlier this year, the board approved a preliminary budget that serves as a guideline for final budget deliberations. The board is required to have a final budget in place by July 1.

In that preliminary budget, the district projected a starting structural deficit of $3.591 million dollars. But that doesn’t include a tax increase.

The state index allows the district to increases taxes approximately $524,000 and the district has also applied for an exception to the state retirement system, PSERS, which allows for an additional tax increase that would total approximately $458,000, for a total potential tax increase, without referendum, at $978,000.

Without a tax increase, the district faces a deficit of approximately $4.5 million.

And several of the factors that boost the deficit lie outside of the district’s control.

Labor expenses, PSERS and FICA contributions and medical expenses will jump a net of $2,270,439 from the current fiscal year to the upcoming fiscal year. And, at the 8.7 percent number offered to the district, federal programs might also receive a $269,515 cut as a result of federal cuts known as sequestration.

Administration also prepared a series of additions to the budget based on relative need, including several personnel additions as well as various equipment replacements, that totaled $1,782,000.

A corresponding list of cuts, totaling $2,546,000, was also presented, highlighted by a $611,000 cut in teacher attrition largely through retirement, $375,000 in reduced unemployment costs and $500,000 as a result of the closure of South Street Early Learning Center.

“We put all course offerings out,” Acting Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “That drove the staffing. Elementary class sizes are pretty comparable. The high school electives are there. Programming (is) very comparable to what you have seen in the past.

“If we were to have to go much deeper, we would have to make some compromises in terms of what we are used to.”

“Even if we impose the tax increase of $838,000 (and) exploit every savings you’ve brought to us this evening (and) turn down all expense additions, we’re still (facing a) $500,000 deficit,” Board President Arthur Stewart said.

“That’s correct,” Business Manager Jim Grosch said.

“We are weeks away from needing to put this together,” Amy Stewart said. “The majority of our dollars are people. (We) can’t make too many changes there without programs being different. We’d be talking about drastic changes about what the district is used to.”

What might that mean?

According to Amy Stewart, possible changes to the middle level program and eliminating electives at the secondary level which would make the situation “very difficult for your smaller high schools.”

Arthur Stewart, speaking on behalf of the board, tasked administration to prepare a series of cuts to exceed $1.5 million, offering the board a look at what a no-tax-increase budget might look like.

That information will be prepared for a special meeting to be held next Monday night for the purpose of additional budget deliberation.