School board will try to make cuts

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The school board's budget committee agreed to try and meet the County Commission's target of $500,000 in cuts, in order to take less from their fund balance during the 2009-2010 school year.

At a meeting Thursday, the committee approved a few specific cuts and asked finance director Janet Wiles to cut almost every line of the budget back closer to what actual expenditures were in the 2008-2009 school year.

The full school board is due to hold their September meeting at 6 p.m. tonight.

"If we pass it (the budget), we could have it to the County commission on Thursday," said budget committee chairwoman Kristen Gold.

Even if the commission holds a special called meeting, the County's budget will not be passed in time for the school system to get state money for October. Wiles said they would meet October's expenses out of fund balance until the state's Basic Education Program money arrives.

"We've done all we can do and then some," said board member Craig Michael.

"Yes," agreed Randy Perryman, another budget committee member, "We've gone above and beyond."

"Budget and actual will never be the same," explained Michael later. "Janet (Wiles) is going to scrub down to the enamel without affecting people's livelihood and positions."

At the start of the meeting Gold announced that the County commissioners had "reluctantly" come up with a number: they asked the school system to cut an additional $500,000 from their budget.

"I guess we just have to see what we can come up with," she said.

"What if we don't make any cuts?" asked Perryman.

"The budget committee would reject it," Gold said. "It would go to the floor of the County commission."

"It goes without a favorable recommendation," added school board member Curt Denton.

"That's certainly a possibility," said Gold. "They have to fund that amount, but they don't have to approve the budget we present."

"They do have control over the fund balance," Wiles said.

"If it goes much further," Perryman said bitterly, "We're not going to need a school board; just let the County commission do it."

The committee discussed places to cut expenditures.

"Separating needs versus wants - that's the direction we need to go," said committee member Mark Wilkerson.

"Everything on here is a need," exclaimed Denton.

"There are wants that aren't even in here," added Michael.

Director of schools Stan Curtis has vacant teacher assistant positions he would like to fill, and the committee agreed to keep these in the budget. They are not new positions, just ones that have become vacant.

"There will still be some savings because we're hiring after school starts," said Wiles.

"There's lots of differences between April and September," she pointed out. "The guidance position at Lewisburg Middle School has gone from a full-time person with a doctorate to a half-time person with a Master's degree. That's a considerable savings."

"You only need to cut 0.8 percent of each line to reach your goal," said Michael. "The key is to see what Janet (Wiles) can come up with."

A dollar amount of the teachers' health insurance premium to be paid by the school system was agreed in this year's contract, which both the Marshall County Education Association, representing the teachers, and the school board have ratified. Since the premium is only increasing by four percent, instead of the 10 percent originally announced, MCEA was asked if they would accept less, and thus have more money to return to the fund balance.

MCEA, however, has been advised by their attorney not return to the negotiating table, though Gold said the school board's lawyer was of the opinion that negotiations could be re-opened.

"I don't feel the commission's request was intended to effect our agreement with MCEA," said Michael. "I think honesty and trust are big factors here. We don't need to give teachers another reason to question us. I think we can get to the cuts without changing what we've agreed to do."

"We bargained in good faith," said Perryman. "I don't see how we can back up on that."

"I wish there was room to renegotiate," Gold said. "It needs to be reciprocal. The board is working hard to build trust."

"I can see both sides, " said school board chairwoman and budget committee member Ann Tears. "Leave it like it was - it will be a morale booster."

"We got way ahead of the game," said budget committee member Mike Keny. "We negotiated before we had hard numbers."

"It's kind of a Catch-22," agreed Gold. "It's just difficult."