On The Chopping Block

There are more than 30 positions on the block in the Warren County School District.

At their previous meeting, the district’s board of directors settled on a tax increase of 2.57 mills and ranked potential cuts to help bring down the district’s projected budget deficit. They asked Superintendent Dr. William Clark to designate a point in the cut list that would help with the budget, but not gut staff and programs to levels unacceptable to the administration.

Among the 33 positions brought forward by administrators as possible cuts at Monday evening’s school board meeting were:

10 elementary teachers – four from Warren Area Elementary Center (WAEC), three from Youngsville Elementary Middle School (YEMS), and three from the northern attendance area schools;

eight itinerant teachers, including one each of special education, art, music, biology/chemistry, business, and library, and two physical education/health;

a German and family consumer science teacher from Warren Area High School (WAHS);

an English teacher from Youngsville High School (YHS);

an alternative education teacher from WAHS;

four aides – two each from the central and northern attendance areas;

three custodians – two from the northern attendance area and one from eastern attendance;

four secretaries – one from the northern attendance area, two from eastern attendance area and one from central office;

and a district electrician.

The board asked for $100,000 in cuts from support staff. The list did not reach that amount. To make up the difference, the administration recommended cutting one hour from each of four custodian positions or a half-hour from each of eight.

Many of the proposed cuts are not surprises.

“Some of these would have been necessary anyway,” board member Paul Mangione said.

“Some lined up with building closure,” Director of Administrative Support Services Amy Stewart said. “Ten plus some of the itinerants are due to the building closures.”

The district’s student population allowed some other positions to be eliminated.

“We do have declining student enrollment,” Stewart said. “With declining student enrollment, we’re going to have to continue to clip in order to be right-sized.”

The rest of the cuts were “just pinching and squeezing,” she said.

For the most part, middle level teachers were not among the proposed cuts. “We’re not planning to change the schedule for next year,” board president Arthur Stewart said.

However, middle level teachers may be moved around to fill gaps at elementary or high schools nearby or in the same building.

Board member Donna Zariczny asked if the staff members whose jobs are in jeopardy were aware.

Stewart said she had information of that nature to be presented to the board. “There’s a key discussion on personnel that has to take place in executive session,” she said.

Some of the proposed cuts help the district’s bottom line directly. Others reflect reductions in funding. The aides’ and itinerant special education teacher’s positions are funded by grant dollars. The administration included those positions in the list of cuts due to the proposed budget for the grants.

More cuts could be on the way if the district receives fewer than expected state dollars. In that case, administrators were not confident the district would be allowed to reopen its budget to make adjustments.

The preliminary budget already calls for drawing down the district’s fund balance by about $426,000.

Director of Business Services Jim Grosch said he has heard the final Ready to Learn grant funding could be half or less than the proposed amount, leaving the district in the position to look for another $400,000.

He presented information to the board about possibly using some committed fund balance dollars intended to help defray rising, state-mandated retirement benefit costs toward this year’s budget.

While that would help this year, “we’re going to have to come up with half a million (dollars) next year,” Arthur Stewart said.

The board is making use of millions of dollars in low- to no-interest loans through the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program. On Monday, board members voted unanimously to inquire into the availability of more QZAB dollars.

Should dollars be available, the board authorized the administration to file the required paperwork.

And, if the district is successful in such an application, it will use the funds for “renovation, repair or rehabilitation of a public school facility or for equipment to be used at the academy…”

The district has a positive relationship with the contact for QZAB – National Education Foundation (NEF) chairman Dr. Appu Kuttan.

During Monday’s meeting, Online Learning Principal Misty Weber presented a check from NEF to the district in the amount of $2,000.

The board did not act Monday on a proposal to create a pilot program that would provide specialized, five-day-per-week programming to the district’s “highly gifted” students in grades three through five.

The board will hold a special meeting at 9 p.m. Monday, June 30, at Warren County Career Center for final budget adoption. The board’s four committees – Personnel; Curriculum, Instruction and Technology; Physical Plant and Facilities; and Finance – will meet starting at 6 p.m. on that date.