Monticello schools consider budget cuts

In a preemptive strike caused by declining revenues and corresponding fund balances, the Monticello School Board will consider cutting 2 full- and 2 part-time staff members, reduce another three full-time equivalent positions through attrition, and look at a variety of other cost-cutting measures to reduce next year’s education fund budget.

Superintendent Vic Zimmerman laid out the plan to trim $530,000 from the 2013-14 budget at the Feb. 20 monthly school board session. Board members will likely vote on the proposal March 27.

The superintendent said that without adjustments to next year’s expenses, the education fund budget could show a $1 million deficit next fiscal year.

“If that plays out we would go into the following year with less than a million dollars in our fund balance for education. It’s at that point we would be in a position to consider massive programmatic cuts,” he said. Those could include eliminating some extracurricular activities, something that is spared under the current proposal.

The district began this school year with $7 in fund balances overall, but that could dip to about $5 million by July due to a dip in Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax dollars, which are expected to be $1.8 million less than two years ago.

Of immediate concern is the education fund, which stood $2.8 million last July but is expected to run a $900,000 deficit this fiscal year, bringing it down to $1.9 million going into 2013-14. Even with the proposed cuts, which may also include hiring of a managing firm to run food service at the schools, Zimmerman said there would not be major impacts to curriculum.

“The overall effect on our educational program would be minimal,” he said.

Specifically, full-time staff cuts would include a third-grade instructor and an undetermined middle school position. The two part-time positions on the list to be trimmed are for high school art and a Washington Elementary custodian.

By not replacing several retired and resigning teachers, the plan would also include reducing for full- to half-time three high school positions (math, social studies, physical education) and one Lincoln Elementary secretary. An elementary music/art teacher would also not be replaced.

Projected class sizes would rise to 26 students in fourth and fifth grades, but remain in the 16 to 21 per teacher range in kindergarten through third grades.

Board President Jim Coleman felt the district had waited long enough for state reimbursements and CCPRT revenues to pick up, and had no choice but to consider budget cuts.

“I don’t know what else we can do,” said Coleman.

Other budget adjustments would be the elimination of school-sponsored field trips, homework hangout and after-school tutoring, and trimming technology and and professional development budgets.

The amount of cafeteria personnel will remain the same, but Zimmerman hopes the district can save $40-$50,000 annually by hiring a firm to manage the district’s food service, which includes four cafeterias. Documentation to pursue that route will be filed with the Illinois State Board of Education, and a public hearing on the issue will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 27, prior to the next local school board session.

“At this time, it is the intent of the district to keep their own labor,” said Zimmerman. “Food service management would centralize a portion of the tasks that are currently performed by our head cooks and allow them to focus on production and supervision of our kitchens.”

New federal regulations on what kind of food must be served has boosted costs and reduced sales so far this school year, which will mean an estimated $50-$100,000 loss in that line item this year. Last year that line item operated within $10,000 of breaking even.

In an attempt to boost food sales, a modified menu will also debut in March. It will include more chicken items – which rated high on student surveys while still meeting the new federal health standards that were implemented this year.

Zimmerman said items considered but left off the list of cuts included abandoning the block schedule at the high school, increases in registration fees and lunch costs, and reducing to half-day kindergarten.

Board member Chris Carr asked what would happen if enrollment comes in higher than expected.

“If something happens at the last minute and these class sizes bump up just a little bit more, could we come up with aides, or some way to get help to the teachers? Will we have any cushion for that?” said Carr.

Zimmerman said teacher aides could be hired in such cases. He added that some of the proposed cuts were taking advantage of a high school enrollment that should drop 40 students to 545 this fall.

The reduction of a third-grade instructor also takes advantage of 20 less students next year, dropping the total to 108.

Safety issues
Zimmerman told board members that buzzer/camera systems should be installed at Lincoln Elementary, White Heath Elementary and the middle school by spring break, which begins March 18. Board members in January approved $30,000 for the security upgrades at those three facilities.

A similar system at the Washington Elementary/high school campus will likely wait until the summer, since it may require a fence around the outdoor path students take from one school to the other.

District architects from BLDD told board members last week that the $30,000 fence is not the most aesthetically-pleasing way to accommodate a buzzer system, but is by far the least expensive. It could also be taken down easily should modifications be made to the schools later.

If a fence is constructed, doors could remain open at Washington and the high school, with the buzzer being placed on the outside of the fence.

Other action
In other action, the board:
• Heard that Washington Elementary School was the recipient of an Illinois State Board of Education Academic Excellence Award;
• and accepted the resignations of high school science teachers Brian Phelan and Kimber Wilderman.

Categories (2):News, Education


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