District budget cuts: ‘It’s a new world’
TRUCKEE ” Mike Finney began the conversation with a humble note: “In my view, the top question is how everybody can make this work. It’s a new world.”
For the next hour, his small group of concerned citizens then thoughtfully looked at the $3 million budget shortfall for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.
This “new world” is what prompted the district to hold a number of discussions about what priorities the community wants to place on the cuts. These included a district presentation on the financial challenges, and small group brainstorming sessions among citizens.
In Finney’s small group, which surrounded a table in an empty, darkened cafeteria, his comment prompted a response: “I think everybody needs to be really careful,” said another group member. “Everything on the table to cut ends up in the classroom. As parents, we need to be careful not to put a wedge between us and the teachers.”
And so it went for the next hour without pause. Ideas ranged from finding corporate sponsorship for athletic teams to charging more for bus service. Some wondered if the high school needed the expense of having a cafeteria, when most students leave to eat lunch.
Finney’s group, one of several who broke off Tuesday night to discuss the budget cuts, also suggested moving to a different sports class and combining sports programs among the high schools.
For others, finding room to cut was tough. Martha Cerney, one of the many Hispanic parents in attendance, was especially concerned that second language programs and in-classroom aides may be eliminated.
“We struggle to be negative,” she said, speaking for her mostly Spanish-speaking group. “We want these opportunities for our kids because we did not have them. It is very tough for us to see any of this as possibly going away.”
But that is the reality, says Superintendent Steve Jennings. Jennings said that most of the community roundtables have been productive in soliciting community output, but tough decisions are coming.
“A lot of what we discuss are the easy ones,” he said, explaining that charging for transportation would bring in roughly $70,000 to the district annually, a far cry from the $3 million target. “But we’ve had a tremendous amount of good ideas through this process,” he said.
Jennings, along with Assistant Superintendent of Business Steve Dickinson, take the questions from the community members about cutting administrative costs in stride.
With an array of pie charts and graphs, they show that 80 percent of the district’s budget is wrapped up in salaries, but also explain the administration is holding positions open, and not taking raises this year.
Jennings said one surprising fact has been how all the communities support the idea of the district charging more for services, like transportation and food. The group in Kings Beach, he said, wondered if parents could be required to work for the district if their kid is enrolled.
Whatever that final picture is, Dickinson, recently hired from a district in Minnesota, is charged with crafting the final, thinner, budget to be adopted in June.
“I’m hoping there’s going to be some pockets of good in this,” he said to the community members Tuesday night. “Maybe this is the time where we do things that cost less and do more for the kids. I don’t know yet, but I’m hopeful.”
– Upcoming community discussions: Monday, Feb. 9 at Truckee Elementary; Tuesday, Feb. 10 at Alder Creek Middle School
– Many teachers will receive a notification of intent of layoff on March 15, while those actually being laid off will receive a final notice on May 15.
– Non-teachers, like bus drivers, will receive a 45-day notice before their positions are eliminated.
– All other budget reductions, as in charging for transportation, will be approved by the School Board through May.
– The final budget will be adopted in June.
How Assistant Superintendent of Business Steve Dickinson addressed different areas that could be affected by budget cuts:
Staff Cuts: “In evaluating our employee groups, teachers and class sizes are the easy ones to talk about ” it’s the largest variable. All our other employee groups we will look at creating ratios for, as in secretarial staff to student population; custodians to square footage in a building; administration per students in a school building.”
Materials: “You might think we could save $1 million if we ran our copier less often, but it just doesn’t add enough. It might be unusual for schools to operate without paper and copies and pencils.”
New revenue sources: “Schools don’t make a product, we employ people to educate kids, so our chances of new revenue are slim, but we do have some. Transportation is one, and facility use is another. We probably could charge a little more to make sure our costs are covered.”
Staff Development: “We still value training and education for our employees. We’re going to try to slow it down so we only go forward if it is already funded by a grant.”
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