By Charlene Bielema
Two weeks after deciding not to proceed with a list of proposed budget cuts in front of it, the Clinton School Board on Monday night voted to slice $667,000 from its fiscal year 2014 budget, a cut that was not as deep as the one proposed by the district’s superintendent and chief financial officer.
In a work session preceding the vote Monday, the board was given a list of cuts that would have generated $867,000 in savings for the district. On the block: four seventh- and eighth-grade positions, a sixth-grade position, six kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers, one high school world language position, a fifth- through 12-grade instrumental music position, a preschool teacher and a one half business teaching position. Those cuts are estimated to save $671,466.
The remainder of the savings would come from early retirement incentives and rehiring to fill those positions at a lower rate.
During the hour-long discussion, CFO Jan Culbertson urged board members to make that full list of cuts — needed because of a drop in enrollment of 90 students, open enrollment effects and a lag in preschool numbers — in an effort to be conservative, protect the cash balance and be ready for decisions to be made by the state Legislature as well as possible upcoming effects of the sequestration.
“All I know is you need to cut that out of the budget,” she said.
But board member Jim McGraw did not agree, saying he was very concerned about the increase that would happen to class sizes in grades three to five. If cuts needed to be made that deep, he said he would prefer a reduction in administration rather in teaching positions, or to cut a lesser amount dollarwise and go into the cash balance to cover the costs.
Culbertson said there was no wiggle room in the budget and that major components, such as revenues from the state that have yet to be decided, future negotiations between the district and bargaining units and the impact of the health care laws that could cause the district to pay insurance costs for employees not currently covered, are a huge unknown. She also pointed out that there will be costs associated with the construction of the new middle school that will not be covered by the bond and will instead come out of the general fund and that the district will have to pay for a turn lane at Eagle Heights Elementary School from that same pot of money.
“The most prudent way to go is to stay with the cuts the way we made them,” she told the board.
When it came time for the vote, which took place in a board meeting immediately after the work session, the board chose not to approve the list of cuts on a 4-3 vote, with McGraw, Missey Sullivan-Pope, Jack Wenzel and Devin Guillory voting against the cuts.
McGraw then made a motion, which was unanimously approved, to lower the cut amount by $200,000 and to preserve the seven elementary teaching positions to control class sizes in third through sixth grades.
The cost of the seven positions, based on salaries only, comes in around $363,000, which means Superintendent Deb Olson will look to trim in other areas of the budget to come up with the $667,000 in cuts, she said after the meeting.
The positions that will be opened up as the result of early retirement incentives include a middle school librarian, a middle school industrial technology teacher, a high school social studies position, a high school language arts teacher, Culbertson’s position and two music teachers.