Balancing Act

In some cases, there was some meat that could be cut off the bone.

In others, like eliminating special classes like art, physical education, or music, programs were being gouged.

Facing a budget deficit of more than $4 million, Warren County School District administrators presented a list of almost 50 possible reductions to the school board Monday night. If all of the reductions were approved, the district would save $8 million.

The possible changes included everything from a staff pay freeze to the elimination of field trips. The projected line item savings ranged from $10,000 to $731,250.

At Board President Arthur Stewart’s request, Superintendent Dr. William Clark gave his professional opinions of most of the possible cuts.

The first $1.5 million in cuts had been proposed to the board at a previous meeting. The additional $6.5 million was all new.

The largest individual items included a reduction of teachers and the corresponding salary savings. The deepest cuts on the list were a top tiers of middle level cuts representing 14 to 16 teacher positions and eliminating specials – 13 positions for physical education down to three for business.

Increasing the maximum class size at the elementary (30) and intermediate (34) levels would save about $337,000.

Switching back from full- to half-day kindergarten would save another $337,000.

If the district was to only offer courses with enrollments of at least 18 students, it would save $225,000, but several AP courses could not be offered at some schools. “The concern I would have there is the AP courses,” Clark said.

But the change would threaten other courses. “We’re not imperiling just the AP courses, we’re imperiling say, chemistry, at Eisenhower and Sheffield?” Stewart asked. “Chemistry?”

“The elephant in the room for a small school is singleton classes,” Youngsville High School Principal Phil Knapp said. “You might have students that are interested, but you can’t get them all in” due to scheduling conflicts.

Supplemental contract cuts – some of which would have to be negotiated – could save up to $306,000.

Possible cuts to the middle level program were given in tiers – the lowest of which would save $281,000, the highest $618,000. Any of those tiers would change the middle level scheduling, a prime component of the program. The highest tier would take the district “back to the old junior high model,” Clark said.

Stewart characterized that possibility as “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Clark said the lowest tier would offer the district some flexibility to maintain a specialized middle-level program. “We know there is some meat there we need to trim off,” Clark said. “We’re comfortable with that.”

If the district can negotiate a salary increase of one percent rather than the existing contract’s two percent, it would save $259,000. A zero-increase contract would save $518,000.

The board asked the administrators to look at the savings for cutting instructional coaches. Because the positions are funded with grants for that purpose, there would be no savings, Director of Administrative Support Services Amy Stewart said.

She added that there would be additional cuts throughout the district that would not benefit the board’s budget discussion. “There are some other positions that we will need to cut to keep up with cuts to federal money,” she said. “Our revenue is down, so we will staff within our funding level.”

The district could opt to keep people in those positions, but it will add to the budget deficit.

The administration’s list included a number of items that did not directly cut staff, including: reducing athletic funding by $50,000 to $100,000; eliminating district-sponsored field trips for things like academic competitions and music festivals ($10,000 to $60,000); and not offering summer school ($40,000).

One change on the list would add to the deficit. Moving the emotional support and autistic support classes back out of the western attendance area to the home schools would cost $190,000. That change would be a step backward, according to Director of Pupil Services Ruth Nelson. To keep the programming at its current levels and move it back to all four attendance areas would cost the district $850,000.

Nelson also said the program is improving and that she believes headway made this year would be lost in moving back.

Next up for board members was ranking each possibility on a scale of “willing to cut” to “can’t live with cutting it.”