Making budget cuts is no walk in the park.
Faced with cuts of more than $500,000 through the 2015-16 school year, USD 257 school board members and administrators are reviewing potential savings. Effective March 7, the district will lose $81,000 after Gov. Sam Brownback announced a combined $44.5 million in cuts to public schools and higher education.
Administrators ranked the impact of potential cuts to various segments of the budget on a scale of 1 to 5. The higher the number, the higher the savings.
— Delaying the purchase of resources for math, science and language arts could save big bucks. Needed materials for language arts alone could save $155,000. The flip side is how it would affect the education of students. The delay would set back the entire curriculum process.
Iola High School principal Stacey Fager said committees work with curriculum director Angie Linn to schedule curriculum updates for the district. They determine what the course needs to make students Kansas career ready. Math was updated last year.
“If we hold off on language arts it would create a domino effect and push back the next science,” he said. “This would affect the students in the classroom
Last May, Fager met with the science committee to plan out the content material. Science is the oldest curriculum in the district.
“To take that money away from the curriculum shows how dire the situation is for school funding,” Fager said.
— Using the Bowlus Fine Arts Center for art, music and drama costs the district $143,000. The Bowlus was a gift from Iolan Thomas Bowlus so district students would have a superior environment to learn fine arts, beginning in 1965. If the district pulled out of the Bowlus, high school band students would practice at the middle school. Art and theater classes would be moved to the high school. Theater productions and concerts could remain at the Bowlus, though, they require a rental fee.
“I hope they can find a way to make it work out,” said Susan Raines, executive director of the Bowlus. “We are also looking to save money anyway we can on our end.”
Raines said she isn’t sure how the Bowlus atmosphere would change if students no longer used the building for classes.
“I’m fully aware of the financial problems we’ve been given,” she said. “Our mission is to do what is best for our students and the fine arts program.”
School board members also serve as trustees to the Bowlus and have control of its budget for the purpose of the school district.
“The Bowlus has kind of been a blessing and a curse for the school board,” she said. “They’ve had to keep finding the money to fund us.”
— Eliminating school librarians could save about $160,000. Elementary librarians are a part of the reading curriculum while secondary librarians tend to be more involved in helping students do research. Current librarians are licensed to teach elementary or secondary English.
— Creating attendance centers in place of current elementary schools could save about $200,000. The plan, which is in the early stages, would house certain grade levels at each elementary school: McKinley would contain preschool and kindergarten; Jefferson, first and second grades; Lincoln, third and fourth grades; and the middle school would house fifth-graders.
— Eliminating block scheduling. Returning to a seven-period day could save $120,000 by eliminating three staff members. The change would give students more minutes of instruction. The tradeoff is the number of classes would be limited. The high school has used block scheduling for about 15 years. Board members are aware it would be a cultural change to both students and teachers. Credits would have to be changed to graduate.
— Shortening the school calendar wasn’t rated but could save $7,000 per day plus utilities. Other districts in the state have started school after Labor Day and ended near Memorial Day weekend. Board members are interested in this idea.
— The district is required to provide health insurance to employees who work at least 30 hours a week or 160 hours a month. School board clerk Teresa Taylor said the district currently provides insurance to employees who work less than that.
“We offer insurance to people who work four hours a day,” Taylor said.
There are 12 classified staff members who fall under this category. If the district stopped providing insurance to those who worked under 30 hours it would save $70,416.
— In 2008 Taylor said the district offered a retirement buyout plan to four teachers. Offering a $25,000 retirement buyout would save about $600 an employee if the district could hire a new teacher to fill the position. There are 30 teachers available for retirement. This would save the district $180,000 in the first year. An issue would be attracting a large number of quality teachers to replace those who retire.
— The district currently pays 100 percent of the insurance premium for their 200 employees.
Taylor said if employees were to begin paying $50 toward the premium the district would save $105,600. However, this would create a pay cut of $600 and it would especially affect lower-wage employees. If employees were asked to pay $75 toward their premiums, the district would save $158,400. That would equate to staff taking a $900 cut in pay. This could detour attracting new teachers to the district.
— Administrators have looked at cutting middle school activities and coaching contracts. The district would save $75,000 on contracts and $10,00 on travel costs. A major concern is the backlash from the community and possibility of losing kids to neighboring schools. This could also affect student moral.
— Eliminating an administrator from the district which would save $70,000 to $90,000 with benefits. Terminating one or both elementary counselors is also on the table. Administrators worry if they were to eliminate school counselors student’s discipline issues could increase. Eliminating counselors could save $40,000 to $80,000.
— Reduction of staff in the technology department could save the district $32,000. Reducing staff would mean repairs and updates could take longer. Cutting a maintenance department position would save $32,000 with benefits but with the facilities in poor condition eliminating an employee would hurt the maintenance department. Combining the middle school and high school bookkeeping positions would save $25,5000 with benefits.
Terminating one or both school nurses could save anywhere from $30,000 to $45,000. There would be a concern about doing things according to the law without nurses on a campus.
— Eliminating summer school for all grade levels could save the district $35,000. At risk would be high school students trying to make up lost credits in order to graduate on time.
— Eliminating staff professional development and travel would save $5,500 for the rest of this year. It would save $40,000 in the in-service education fund yearly budget.