The Lawrence school district is close to making up the $3 million shortfall in its budget, but there are still a few decisions to be made by the school board.
The plan to fill the deficit was presented to board members at their meeting Monday. The administration took $1 million from the contingency fund and $1 million from other funds with cash carryover, such as special education and professional development. Earlier in the year, the district froze half of the budgets from instructional materials and professional development at schools and district headquarters. Those unused funds, which total $500,000, will be applied toward the budget shortfall. The final $500,000 still needs to be found.
“We can’t get to $500,000 by just finding little pockets of cash,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. “There are some, but there will have to be some cuts unless the board chooses not to do that and dig a little deeper into savings.”
Certain items that were budgeted, like $10,000 for elections, won’t be needed this year and can be used to close the budget gap. But that won’t make up the remaining $500,000. The board can decide to use more of its contingency fund or can make more mid-year cuts.
“It may be the right thing to do that we go further into contingency, but we can’t put things, programs at risk,” board president Scott Morgan said. “We’ll have to do what we have to do.”
While the district will be able to make it through this school year, they will start about $4 million in the hole for the 2010-11 school year. But there is the possibility that some of the cuts made this year could also save money for next year.
For example, if a teacher leaves at the end of the semester, the district will save the money it would cost to finish paying his or her salary. If that position isn’t rehired for next school year, that money saved from the salary could be applied to the $4 million the district already knows they need to cut.
“Some cuts, if we make them this year, actually will save money in both fiscal years,” chief operations officer Frank Harwood said. “If we find other things that we cannot spend next year, then that $3.9 million comes down.”
Doll believes that the funds with cash carryover will still have enough dollars to provide the services they are meant to pay for.
“In some ways, it’s a gamble. In some ways, I can’t imagine the crisis being worse than it is right now,” Doll said. “It’s one-time money and if you pull it now, then it’s not going to be there.”
Just this past year, the state raised the amount of money districts could keep in their contingency funds from 6 percent to 10 percent of the district’s general fund.
“The state was looking at budget cuts and understanding their ability to actually make their payments on time is severely limited,” Harwood said.
While some districts are in trouble of not making December payroll, Lawrence isn’t as dependent on state funds and isn’t in danger of that. Plus, the statewide property tax for education is distributed to schools by individual counties. Harwood said a long-standing agreement exists in which Douglas County gives the city and school district a December tax revenue.
“That helps us make sure we get by until the regular one that comes in January,” Harwood said.
But even that won’t help the district make up the deficit that’s waiting for them.
Morgan says the board is going to have to go after big-ticket items to lower the budget to where it needs to be.
The district can save $1 million by adding one student to each class. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, Morgan says parents will notice.
“When parents start seeing their classes, it’s not evenly distributed so there will be some issues there,” Morgan said. “What that means is we let teachers go.”
Another place to save large chunks of money is through school closings. Morgan said the district can save $500,000 just in operational costs by closing one school.
“We’ve got to look at those kinds of numbers to get anywhere close to $4 million,” Morgan said.
Doll said to hit that large number, because of all the cuts that have already been made, the board will have to cut what’s left, namely things that directly impact students.
“We are approaching about a 10 percent cut in our general fund in about a year’s time, which is devastating to programs and to our savings and to our ability to meet goals,” Doll said.
The board will have a study session in January to decide how to fill the final holes in the budgetary gap, either through taking more from contingency or by making cuts.