A budget-cutting proposal that could include the elimination of more than 60 positions — many within the teaching ranks — makes its way this week from school board members to constituents in the South Washington County School District.
The district needs a budget fix of as much as $8 million for the 2015-16 school year, and the cuts being considered as part of the solution are “very heart-wrenching,” Superintendent Keith Jacobus told board members during a Jan. 22 presentation.
The proposal, in fact, proved sobering enough that board members agreed to back off a previous directive calling for reserve funds to be untouched — meaning a retooled plan that administrators plan to present to the board on Feb. 19 may not cut as deeply.
But there will be reductions, Jacobus said, and as part of the effort to determine what’s in the mix, the district will gather community input at three public meetings. The first session will be Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Park High in Cottage Grove.
Jacobus, eyeing the cuts now on the table, said: “It’s a tough list, and tough ramifications for us as a school district.”
The potential moves include:
• Raising the staff-to-student ratio by one, thereby eliminating 25.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions, at a savings of $1.4 million.
• Eliminating world language and band/orchestra programs in the elementary schools, cutting 18.5 FTE positions in the process and saving about $1 million.
• Cutting special education staff by five FTE positions, saving $180,400 but increasing employee caseloads.
• Reducing secondary-school staffing by 7 FTE positions, at a savings of $385,000.
• Negotiating two-day salary furloughs for all district employees, potentially saving about $1.2 million.
No longer under consideration, for now, is a proposal to contract out for bus service, a move that could have saved the district about $2 million.
The school board, when asked on Jan. 22 if it wanted to issue a request for proposals from transportation companies, agreed to hold off and to let the district work with its current staff members to find ways to save money.
Board Member Laurie Johnson, who has been part of the discussions, said of staff members: “They’ve already shown a willingness to really come up with some great ideas.”
On the revenue side, the district is proposing to increase athletic fees by $10 per activity, raising an additional $35,580.
Other factors potentially coming into play would be a possible increase in per-pupil aid from the state and an infusion of new funds from district residents through an operating-levy increase that could be placed on the November ballot.
Dan Pyan, the district’s finance director, said the district’s current budget proposal assumes an $87-per-pupil increase in the state’s basic aid formula. Any funding provided above that amount could be used to rehire employees laid off in the spring.
In 2013, district voters backed a proposal to boost district operating revenues by $6.9 million annually. Of that, $1.5 million was earmarked for safety and security improvements, $2.5 million was dedicated to the district’s fund balance and $1.4 million was set aside to stabilize staff-to-student ratios.
Jacobus said the district’s budget woes were not a result of mismanagement. On the revenue side, he said, state funding has not kept pace with inflation, and enrollment has flattened in recent years. The district also has avoided cutting programs it believes the public wants — moves that could have saved money.
At the time of the 2013 levy proposal, Jacobus said, the district sought to limit the size of the request to ease tax impacts.
“But it wasn’t enough,” he said of the $6.9 million per year request.
The district has yet to say how much it might seek in a levy increase later this year, but it has authority under state law to seek up to $900 more per student. It currently raises $1,351 per pupil. Pyan said that every additional $100 per student equals about $1.8 million in revenue.
In addition to the Park High event, the district will solicit community input on its budget plans on Feb. 9 at Woodbury High and Feb. 11 at East Ridge High.
For more information, go to the district’s website at www.sowashco.k12.mn.us.