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Fox Point-Bayside shortfall projected at $250,000

Preliminary budget deficit affects schedule choice

July 2, 2013

Fox Point — Citing a projected $250,000 budget deficit in the upcoming 2013-14 school year, the Fox Point-Bayside School Board last week chose a middle-ground middle school schedule which makes a modest impact on district finances.

District administrators and School Board members have come under fire since, in April, considering a schedule which would have altered programs like physical education, art, technology and music — known colloquially as "specials" — to accommodate state recommendations for increased math time and a federal requirement for increased one-on-one time between students and teachers. Since then, the board has rescinded seven of 10 potential layoffs for the coming year and backed off on the more controversial aspects of the schedule presented in April.

Of that schedule, only the "flex" period for increased one-on-one time remains; board members have decided to put a humanities-based, problem-solving program referred to as STEM on hold until next year.

The decision to finally settle on a schedule hinged largely on staffing costs. Board members opted for a plan which adds 0.3 of a full-time-equivalency of eighth-grade reading instruction to band teacher Stephanie Traska's teaching load instead of hiring a full-time person.

"It would be irresponsible," board member Tim Melchert said of adding a full-timer to a budget already in the red, "just making things worse in future years."

Budget shortfall

A preliminary budget presented by outgoing Finance Director Amy Kohl tallies about $336,000 in positive budget factors like increased state-mandated spending limits, a 10-seat increase in Open Enrollment, and energy savings, among others, as well as approximately $132,000 in staffing reductions.

Kohl's presentation shows nearly $718,000 in increased costs, including technology upgrades, building and grounds work, and increases in health and dental insurance, among other things. Kohl commented that the approximately $150,000 cost of complying with state accountability measures constitutes "either unfunded or underfunded mandates."

The positives and negatives come out to the approximately $250,000 projected deficit. For the last four years, including the current 2012-13 school year, the district has dipped into its reserves to absorb budget shortfalls.

"This is not a wise or sustainable practice," Kohl wrote in a executive budget summary.

Incoming Superintendent Vance Dalzin, with a yet-to-be-named finance director, and the School Board will need to address the projected deficit before the 2013-14 budget and tax levy are set at the district's annual meeting in September.

Referendum?

District administrators had planned to hire a literacy coach for the coming year. After the top candidate turned down the position and a suitable replacement couldn't be found, some had suggested using the funding to hire a full-time eight-grade reading teacher.

A schedule including that eighth-grade teacher was one option the School Board considered last week, alongside the option of adding reading to Traska's workload and another option that would not have increased staffing at all, but would have distributed some eight-grade reading classes across fifth- through eighth-grade teachers.

Unable to stomach the cost of a full-time person, the board struck a balance between cost and class loads by increasing Traska's duties to include reading classes.

While deliberating the schedule, the board's conversation drifted toward the district's repeated budget issues over the last several years. The district nearly brought a referendum before voters in the spring to sustain the budget. Though the referendum didn't make it on the ballot, it may have to next year, board members said.

"We've been going through (reserves) to keep this going. If we don't (get a referendum approved) we'll probably have staff cuts," said Melchert. "...We're too many hundreds of thousands behind. We just can't keep this up."

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