School district pinches deficit by $1 million

By Dannie Oliveaux-For The Courier-Herald

Staff and administrators at Sumner School District are busy chipping away a deficit between projected revenues and expenditures for the 2008-09 school year.

As each day passes, the district finds ways to cut more and more from a once-projected $2.5 million deficit on its $77.5 million budget.

Last month, members of the Sumner School Board were presented with suggested cuts by Margo Stewart, executive director of business services. During the board's April 30 meeting, Stewart presented adjustments to expenditures that reflected a decline in student enrollment along with rising costs of utilities and fuel, supplies and staffing.

Since then, the district has looked at ways of generating additional revenue and reducing expenditures.

According to Communications Director Ann Cook, the district is getting closer to making expenditures and revenues meet.

“We haven't made $2 million in cuts, because everything was an estimate,” Cook said.

Last week, Cook said the district was projecting about a $500,000 deficit and the figure could be reduced even more.

“We are still real early in the process,” she said. “There are more changes every day as more information has become available to us. As the process goes along, the numbers will change.”

Cook said the original $2.5 million deficit was a rough estimate because it was “comparing apples to oranges.”

“We were comparing revenue with fewer students, but expenditures with the same number of students,” she said.

Cook said because of the projected decrease in student enrollment next school year, the district has trimmed the budget an estimated $1 million by reducing staff levels.

Teacher reductions should save the district $860,000 while an assistant superintendent's position, which is currently unfilled, should save another $140,000 in salary and benefits.

Cook said some staffing positions would not be filled due to the enrollment drop.

The current proposal calls for elimination of 11.25 full-time staff members because of a projected decline of 221 students.

Cook said the assistant superintendent retired and the district decided to leave the position vacant.

Cook cautioned that enrollment estimates could change.

“Those are early numbers we had at our April meeting,” she said. “Those numbers could change and we would have to hire back some teachers.”

Retirements and other departures will likely account for the elimination of some positions. Seventeen teachers within the district are retiring, Cook noted.

Cook said since the April 30 presentation, the district has made some adjustments such as reducing expenditures because of enrollment.

School districts around the state are experiencing similar budget difficulties, Cook said, because state funding is inadequate.

“Even if we didn't have a projected decrease in student enrollment, we would likely have a problem with the budget,” Cook said. “State funding doesn't meet our needs right now. You are seeing it in every district.”

Cook said the shortfall in what the state contributes for teacher salaries and what the district actually pays is about $6 million.

She said that sum is made up from levy money - about half of the local levy funding.

Cook said the state also funds 50 percent of transportation.

“The local levy dollars just don't stretch very far,” she added.

She said school districts spend between 82 and 85 percent of their budget on employee salaries, pensions and benefits.

She said the remaining portion of the budget has to cover everything from supplies, utilities, fuel and equipment to books and buses.

During the April 30 budget presentation, adjustments included eliminating the mid-day kindergarten bus run, increase rental fees by 10 percent, charging for custodian time and limiting administrative interns to dollars funded by the state.

Also, the district is proposing a pay-to-play fee for athletics. The fees would be $25 for high school, $15 for middle school and $10 for elementary students. This would generate about $57,000 for the district.

Cook said a public hearing is scheduled for July on the proposed budget and the board will vote to adopt a budget in August.

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