Plan 'bold moves' to trim school budget : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Plan 'bold moves' to trim school budget |
|Board, school chief talk options|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
When they put the Oswego School District's proposed 2012-13 budget on public display last month, school board members were told it contained a deficit of $5.5 million.
Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt told board members Monday evening the deficit originally was more than $7.5 million. He added that they had reduced it to the $5.5 million figure before presenting it to the board at a meeting Aug. 13.
"It was not easy in the end of July and first part of August to find over $2 million in reductions to a budget," he said, praising the staff for doing so before it was presented.
However, the budget needs much more cutting, Wendt said.
He asked board members to consider how much they should use from the district's cash reserves to reduce the budget further before it comes up for adoption at the board's next meeting on Sept. 24.
He said the administration will be suggesting some "bold moves" for this budget that may be carried on into the following year's budget and even beyond.
He gave several examples and said they expect to save about $1.5 million through the cuts.
"A few examples include delaying hiring of additional custodial staff for the Murphy Junior High School," he said.
The school at 26923 W. Grande Park Boulevard, Plainfield, opened for the first time this fall.
Wendt said they will be able to use current custodians and avoid new hires. He said they also were able to find dollars in what was budgeted for new staff members, but added that they went forward with hiring some new people as recommended even before he joined the district on July 1.
Also Wendt said he cut funds that had been budgeted for consultants for curriculum and instruction. He said they have put a moratorium on these items until they have a full curriculum process for the board to approve.
"We're also going to delay some selective textbook purchases-about $250,000 for junior high math text books-until we have a board approved pre-K-12 curriculum process that includes all of mathematics, not simply going in and dissecting parts of a program at the junior high level.
"That's not to say we don't need new textbooks. We do-at the junior high and high school levels," he said, adding they must be tied into what students are learning at the elementary level.
Wendt said they have a technology plan but will scale back some purchases to help reduce the budget. Recent computer purchases were made with federal funds earmarked for these items, he added, saving the district several hundred thousand dollars.
In addition the district is going to apply for an E-Rate revenue reimbursement for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. Wendt said the district has not been as aggressive as it should have been in applying for these refunds.
The universal service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as "E-rate," provides discounts of up to 90 percent to assist most schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.
Eligible participants include public and most non-profit K-12 schools as well as all public and many private libraries.
Four service categories are funded: Telecommunications Services, Internet Access, Internal Connections other than Basic Maintenance, and Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections. Discounts range from 20 to 90 percent of the costs of eligible services, depending on the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the population served. _
Wendt estimated they could be reimbursed for up to $400,000 in back payments for these two years.
He said they recently learned that they can be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of the cost of laptop computers for students through the E-Rate program.
He said that with all of the changes he discussed, they could reduce the budget deficit to $3.8 million.
Wendt said administrators have cut their department expenses as much as possible, and may be able to find another half-million in cuts, but no more than that. People will start to see and feel a difference in the schools at that time he added.
The next step will be for the board to decide if they want to dip into their cash reserves. This would keep the district from showing an increase in taxes, but he said the reserves would have to be paid back at some point.
Board President Bill Walsh said about 90 percent of the $140 million budget is committed for salaries, leases, services and other commitments. He commended the staff and administration for the cuts it has made without affecting the classroom. But he said he believes they will have to tap into the reserves as they have done in the past.
Walsh said they need to proceed with appointing a Financial Advisory Committee to work on the budget to find additional ways to reduce costs.
Board Member Dave Behrens suggested they look at the district's daily attendance figures.
"We have 17,600 to 17,700 students. When we look at our ADA (Average Daily Attendance) figures that we get state aid for, it's not near 17,600 kids," he said.
Behrens added October, November and December are their highest attendance months, and said they need to find a way to increase student attendance during these months to increase their ADA revenue.
Behrens said he is not opposed to using the reserves for this budget, but said it should be only for one year. He added that the needs for technology and textbook will only get worse.
"So how we're going to get that back in balance, plus pay back the reserves isn't going to be easy," he said.
Wendt agreed that they should use their reserves to balance the budget with hopes that by next spring they will have adequate funds to pay back at least half of the reserves.
He said their goal would be to present a balanced budget next fall without having to use reserves. He noted they had expenses this year such as opening Murphy Junior High that they will not have next year.
Behrens, however, noted that that they will be opening a 600-student addition at each of the two high schools next year, the cost for which will be added to the budget. These additions were approved by the board last year in place of building a third high school in the Plainfield area of the district.
Board member Mike Scaramuzzi noted that they approved 46 new staff members before they were aware there would be a huge deficit in the budget. Hiring these people was done to keep class sizes down, he noted.
Scaramuzzi said they will have to borrow money if they have a deficit budget but added that interest rates are at their lowest for borrowing, so the cost would be minimal for the short time before the funds would have to be repaid.
Board member Brent Lightfoot said the borrowing through issuing Tax Anticipation Warrants is usually done in the spring and said the financial picture may be better by that time.
The concern of Board Vice President Ali Swanson was that they not create an increase in property taxes for next year.
Scaramuzzi said they are considering borrowing funds to keep from increasing the property tax bills.
There will be an increase in the tax bill next year because payments for building construction bonds will start, he said.
The budget as proposed is tentative and will be updated before it is adopted following a public hearing.
The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Monday Sept. 24 prior to the regular board meeting in the second floor Community Room at Oswego East High School, 1525 Harvey Road, Oswego.
Copies of the budget were placed on display for 30 days for public inspection at the District's Administrative Center, 4175 Rt. 71, Oswego and the Oswego Public Library at 32 W. Jefferson St., downtown Oswego.