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Slicing Education

Published 12:00am Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lawrence County school superintendents brace for budget cuts

Ohio’s new biennial budget appropriates $800 million less for education than last year. School districts across the state have tinkered with their budgets to accommodate the changes and officials hope the changes they’ve made will align their expenses with revenue without sacrificing education.

What changes are in store for Lawrence County districts?

CHESAPEAKE

Chesapeake schools instituted a retirement incentive program that encouraged those eligible to go ahead and retire. Then the district brought back teachers who had been part of a reduction in force, or RIF.

“We recalled all the laid-off younger teachers because we had a like number of seniors who chose to take advantage (of the program),” Superintendent Scott Howard said.

Among cuts made included the full-time music teacher at the elementary school who will now work at the middle school and for one period at the elementary. The music teacher at the middle school was RIFed and left the district for work elsewhere.

“We do have some music at the elementary level, but with these kind of budget cuts, you make decisions on core classes,” Howard said. “I have not made these unilaterally. Sandy (Benson, district treasurer,) and I have been working with the building principals. They have had significant input. I feel our principals have had a lot of input and they should have input. They are the closest to the situation.”

Two administrative positions were eliminated at the board office and that money will be redirected out of administration and into teaching positions, Howard said.

“It was a difficult situation,” Howard said. “I am very hopeful and optimistic that things are going to improve and our losses will be restored.”

RIFs began at Chesapeake in April and continued through the spring until two weeks prior to the end of school years.

“Several of the RIFs were done prematurely as several of the women are back to the same positions they were RIFed from,” Debbie Riggs, president of Chesapeake Local Teachers Association, said.

DAWSON-BRYANT

Dennis DeCamp, superintendent for Dawson-Bryant Local Schools, said the district has seen the effects of budget cuts for the past several years, but his true concern will be for the next school year, rather than this year.

“I think the hype was a whole lot more than what we will realize this year,” Decamp said.

“Our true concern will be next year once the Education Jobs bill money goes away. That’s going to be the big hit for our district.”

Education Jobs Fund money was part of an Obama administration aid package passed by Congress last year to save teachers’ jobs. It can pay for salaries, performance bonuses and other benefits such as health care for teachers, principals, librarians, counselors, coaches, bus drivers and other school staff members, but it cannot go toward administrative costs.

DeCamp said the district was awarded about $483,000 of jobs money, but won’t be receiving it next spring. The district will also lose about half a million in SFSF stimulus money for the 2012 school year and more than $70,000 in tangible personal property tax monies.

“We’ve been trying to anticipate these budget cuts coming,” Decamp said. “I think the board has a done a good job in listening to our recommendations.”

This district is currently in the process of making energy efficient renovations to the building to help cut down on overall costs.

“We are looking to save significant amounts of money by doing that project,” DeCamp said.

The project includes changes to the heating and air conditioning systems and lighting systems. The district also used stimulus funds for a new roof at the elementary school.

Another measure taken to help soften the blow when the district’s budget decreases is cutting jobs through attrition. Once teachers retire, their positions will not be filled. There were no pay raises for anyone this year either. Benefit costs also did not increase.

DeCamp also said the district has made a conscious effort to not spend any kind of stimulus money on personnel.

“If you spend that money on personnel and that money goes away in two years, then you’re still left holding that personnel expenses in your general fund,” he said.

The difference in pure state funds for Dawson-Bryant will be a three percent loss for the 2012 fiscal year, about $260,000. DeCamp said he can’t say whether school programs will have to be cut, but that layoffs will probably happen eventually.

“About 76 percent of our costs are personnel related, therefore that will probably have to take the biggest part of that absorption of that money,” he said.

Although the district will take a hit in state funds, DeCamp said he couldn’t blame it on Gov. Kasich’s bill, saying it is just the state of Ohio’s economy.

“Nobody is immune to the financial concessions that are being made right now and education is just one of those receivers of public funds and we’ve got to modify what we’re doing,” he said. “Windfalls of money are not on the horizon that I see. Whatever general fund balance we have now is what we better be banking on for large projects down that road if we have any.”

FAIRLAND

Fairland will have $190,193 less for operations in the 2011-2012 school year and, while that’s not a preferable scenario, Treasurer Loretta Wirzfeld said it could have been worse.

“From the beginning we had been hearing (we would be cut) 10 percent, 15 percent but it’s turned out to not be that bad and we are grateful. We had prepared for the worst,” Wirzfeld said.

At the end of the last school year, Fairland officials offered a retirement incentive to its teaching staff, taking the people in the very top tier of the teaching salary scale off the payroll. If they are replaced — and Wirzfeld said she did not yet know how many would be — it will cost less to replace the retirees with younger teachers who will naturally earn less.

“If we had had to layoff people, we would have had to pay them unemployment. This way, we take people from the top end of the (pay) scale and they’re happy to be leaving since they’re getting an incentive,” Wirzfeld said.

As for non-certified staff, Wirzfeld said the district cut four clerical positions last year and will not likely need to cut any more non-teaching positions.

IRONTON

Ironton City Schools will see a decrease in state funding of 2.1 percent or $175,129 this year compared to last year. Between state and federal cuts, the school district’s budget will decrease from $11,133,850 to $10,265,634 for the coming year, Superintendent Dean Nance said.

“We have 92 percent of last year’s budget,” Nance said. “We’ve lost 8 percent of last year’s budget.”

To make up for the approximately $868,216 cut, the school district will not replace six teachers, one custodian and one cook, all of whom retired, Nance said. Between the positions’ insurance, retirement, life insurance and Medicare, the district will save about $485,600.

As well, $8,000 — or the cost of two assistant coaches — will be cut from the athletics budget.

The teachers and classified association have agreed to no pay raises for the next two years and have agreed to $113,000 in concessions.

The teachers will make less this year than they did last year, Nance said.

The district will also save 7 percent or about $124,313 on its insurance premium for this year.

Another $136,000 or more of the approximately $868,216 was spent last year on Title 1 and IDEA technology. Those purchases were made with federal stimulus monies and will not have to be made again this year.

“It has a lot of stipulations and criteria of how you can spend the money so there were some purchases that we made that are not going to be every-year purchases,” Nance said. “So there’s quite a bit of that money that is not going to be used again this year.”

The superintendent said the decrease in teachers may affect class size, but not significantly. The budget cuts will cause the district to move down toward minimum standards, Nance said.

“We’re not at the minimum standards yet but it’s moved us more towards being at the minimum standard,” he said. “I never want to be at the minimum standards. Our test scores are not at the minimum standards.”

Classes generally will still have no more than 25 students and some will have fewer, Nance said.

“I feel we’re still going to be operating a very good education system,” Nance said. “Even though we have had to make some concessions I’m really happy with the way the staff and the board pulled together and made concessions in light of tough economic times.

“I feel the changes made so far have been cuts in luxuries but don’t feel they’re going to have an adverse affect on student learning.”

If more cuts are made, however they could have a negative effect on the quality of education the district is able to provide, Nance added.

ROCK HILL

“This has probably affected us more than anybody in the county,” Rock Hill Superintendent Wes Hairston said. “And this is after we made significant budget cuts.”

Rock Hill will start the 2011-2012 school year with $801,000 less in state funding and reimbursements than in previous years.

Knowing what might be around the corner, school officials cut $1.2 million in other areas of the budget last year in hopes of avoiding layoffs.

Although 10 teachers have retired, along with two administrators, the district ended up having to eliminate nine other teaching positions to balance the FY 2011-2012 budget. Also, 25 non-certified staff have been cut.

Hairston said he is appreciative that the two unions that represent his employees, the Rock Hill Education Association and the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE), have been understanding and willing to work with the administration on the issues of pay and benefits.

Hairston said two major hits to the budget in the last several years have been its child development center and its food service.

Hairston said at one time the district had a $6 million general fund cash reserve but overspending in food service and budget issues in the preschool ate away at that cash reserve.

Hairston said school district officials are well aware the kids who started at the Rock Hill Child Development Center when it opened in 2003 are performing at the top of their class and better than those who did not attend the preschool.

But Rock Hill had been losing $600,000 to $700,000 annually on its preschool, which had not been fully funded although it was staffed from the beginning with three teachers and aides. Hairston said he and other school officials had lobbied governments in both Columbus and Washington for grants, to no avail.

In the coming school year, the preschool, which has been moved to the elementary school, will be staffed with only two teachers and two aides for two classrooms.

Like many other districts locally, food service is one of the most necessary expenses, but often is a losing proposition.

Treasurer Chris Robinson said the district has lost $3.4 million in food service over the last nine years. Although the federal government reimburses the district approximately $2.40 for every free or reduced price lunch, that doesn’t totally cover the $4 to $5 the district spends on each meal and the district can’t shift the cost of food service to those kids who pay full price. The state won’t allow it.

Food service is one area that can be tinkered with, but only to a point.

“It’s very difficult to fix that much food for a large number of students in the amount of time we do,” Robinson said.

Even with state funding reductions, Hairston said the district is committed to pursuing academic excellence and new state report card figures to be released in coming weeks will show that recent changes made to the curriculum will the district is on the right track academically. He hopes fiscal changes made now will lead to a healthier district in the future as well.

“We want the district to be fine not only in the short-term but in the long term,” Hairston said. “And we will continue to spend every available dollar to continue to give the best education we can to our students.”

SOUTH POINT

The South Point Local School District is no exception to the threat of layoffs but Superintendent Ken Cook said he thinks the district can make up much of its deficit through attrition.

“We’ve had some people to retire and some of those positions we probably will not replace and that’s how we’ll make up the deficit there,” Cook said.

“I think the timing for us with people retiring has worked out real well for us because so far we haven’t had to lay anyone off.”

The district will see more than $700,000 increase in state assistance from fiscal year 2011 to 2012, but nearly a million dollar decrease in other stimulus money, leaving a deficit of more than $240,000.

The 2 percent loss might not sound like much, but Cook said it could mean the salaries of several teachers if the bottom line meant layoffs.

Cook also said the district would try to save by conserving on utility costs.

“Just like at home, you try to operate within that budget,” he said. “We do the same thing here in the school district.”

For the time being, Cook said he doesn’t foresee having to cut any programs like fine arts or athletics.

“Hopefully it will never get to that,” he said. “I know some districts have done away with that or some districts across the state have had to do a pay-to-play type of thing with their athletics. We haven’t reached that point yet.”

He also doesn’t anticipate over-crowding classrooms as teachers retire and their positions are not filled.

Although budget cuts are not a welcomed change, Cook agreed that the state just doesn’t have enough revenue coming in.

“I have felt for years in this state that they really need to solve the funding problem of education and figure out a way to generate revenue that will take care of education so you’re not always battling the situation of budget cuts with education.”

SYMMES VALLEY

According to figures sent out by the state department of education in April, Symmes Valley will get $222,295 less in state funding and reimbursements in the coming year.

“Where it’s affected us is part-time help we had in the teaching staff,” Superintendent Jeff Saunders explained.

Five teachers retired at the end of the last school year. Saunders said one of those five full-time positions will not be filled. Two part-time teaching positions will also not be filled. A custodian who retired will be replaced with a part-time employee. Years of contending with a bare-bones budget has left Symmes Valley with an already lean payroll.

“We’re almost down to a bare minimum staff,” Saunders said.

Symmes Valley’s financial stress is compounded by the exhaustion of federal stimulus funding.

Saunders said he hopes to save $10,000 to $15,000 by joining a food service consortium and if the change saves money on meals, he may opt to make other purchases, such as for supplies, through the consortium as well.

“There are different services through this consortium but let’s see how the food service works,” he said.

Even with cuts, Saunders said the district is committed to providing quality education to its students.

Symmes Valley has 800 students.

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