School board sets priorities should more budget cuts be needed

Cut to instrumental music suggested but nixed after lobbying by directors

The Greene County Schools have trimmed more than the $525,000 set as a target for the 2016-17 budget, but still spent time discussing furthers cuts that may be necessary depending on the outcome of contract negotiations.

Superintendent Tim Christensen outlined $647,989 in general fund savings for next year. The district will save $230,390 by not replacing staff who accepted the early retirement incentive and three other staff members who resigned. A reduction in force of 2-1/3 teaching positions (middle school physical education, one pre-school position and a 1/3-time family and consumer sciences position) will save the district $107,389.

Purchasing break down insurance, with the payment coming from the district’s management fund, will save $100,000 in the general fund.

The district has significantly reduced overtime and looks for a savings of $30,000 in the next school year. Also, the district will not hire additional help over the summer and expects to save another $30,000. Another $37,000 will be saved with the voluntary move of a secretary to a food service position.

Those savings total $647,989.

Christensen calculates a $178,017 in new money from the 2.25 percent increase in supplemental state aid approved earlier this month by the legislature, for a total of $826,006.

Christensen said the proposal to share a curriculum director with Northeast Webster-Grand will probably not pan out, but there is a possibility for sharing the position with Laurens-Marathon. That would bring $50,000 to the Greene County district. Savings and new money would amount to $876,000.

If sharing the curriculum director works, the district has $351,006 to work with.

Unknown expenses: However, there are four figures that are still unknown on the expense side of the budget.

The teachers’ contract has not been finalized, but a change in base pay could add between $200,000 and $250,000 to the budget. Teachers moving on the salary schedule (based on years of experience and further education) could add $18,000 – $22,000.

The classified staff typically receives a wage increase similar to what the teachers receive. That is estimated at $75,000 – $90,000.

Finally, an increase in administrators’ salaries will add between $28,000 – $32,000.

Salaries and wages will increase somewhere between $321,000 and $394,000. Should the contract settlements fall on the low side of the range, the budget would work. Should they fall on the high side, the district could need to find as much as another $43,000 in savings.

Christensen suggested three areas to cut, should further reductions be made: reduction in the instrumental music staff, $45,000; custodial/building/grounds, $30,000; or classroom associate, $20,000.

The instrumental music department had not been touched during the reduction in force action, but the resignation of middle school band director Hanna Sundberg, approved earlier in the meeting as part of the consent agenda, had created the possibility of cutting staff by attrition.

“I’ve met with the band and vocal teachers…. I’m confident that based on the people we have, with making some adjustments, we could get the job done,” Christensen said. “Would it be challenging? Yes, but they’ve been very supportive and if the board said ‘This is what we’re doing,’ they’d make it work.”

Band directors Bob Palmer (intermediate), Sundberg, and Wes Anderson (high school) were at the meeting. Palmer was spokesperson. Palmer noted that the student:teacher ratio is between 45:1 and 65:1, that there are 245 instrumental music students in the district, and 150 of them are in grades 7-12.

According to Palmer, a cut would “really hurt in all the ways we’re doing well.” It would lead to a decline in the number of students selected for the prestigious All-State Music Festival, ratings at large group contests, and the ratings and number of jazz contests attended, and marching band contests.

“Long term, you see fewer and fewer students. The first year you don’t see it so much, but the second year you start to lose students, and you lose more and more. You start to lose kids because the program’s not where it was. It’s a cycle that keeps feeding on its own,” Palmer said.

Anderson noted that staff time for small group and individual instruction is important to help students who do not have easy access to private lessons, as do students in urban and suburban districts.

Board member Mike Dennhardt asked Palmer and Anderson if they could handle the instrumental department between the two of them. Anderson declined to answer as a first year teacher, but Palmer said, “I will always do the best I can, but my opinion is there would be a loss in quality.”

Board member Sam Harding noted that in the year the board reduced the teaching force by 15, another band director (Marty Brenden) was hired because band numbers had grown significantly. “For whatever the reason, this community is hugely supportive of the arts,” Harding said.

Christensen reminded the board that at the April 13 public forum, some parents had suggested that the activities director be increased from three-fourths to fulltime. “As we look at stuff, it’s about priorities.”

“That’s what our decisions are. They’re priorities…. I think there are other ways to get the $42,000 if we need it,” Harding said. “I say we advertise for a band director and see what’s out there.”

After discussion, including the possibility of sharing a band director with a neighboring district, the board directed Christensen to post an opening for a middle school instrumental position, noting that it could be a shared position and that the ideal candidate would have strong piano skills. (The district now pays a piano accompanist for the high school choir on an hourly basis.)

Should further cuts be needed, a middle school associate position would be cut and/or custodial positions would be reconfigured.

 

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