Archive for Thursday, December 17, 2009

School district works to fill budget gap

Plan to resolve $3 million shortfall presented to board members Monday

USD 497 officials are trying to find creative ways to draw nearer to a balanced budget.

December 17, 2009


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.

Overall picture

“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.

Possible scenarios

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.


bmwjhawk 8 years, 6 months ago

I'd prefer all sports be cut before impacting classrooms.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 6 months ago

That might happen, but the amount saved won't resolve the issue. If large numbers of schools did this, it might attract enough attention the public would respond. The irony: if we cancelled activities to save a bit of money, other parts of the culture would pay the bill through increased alcohol and drug consumption, more crime and teen pregnancy, auto accidents, etc. If nothing else, activities keep kids busy during the critical hours between 3 and 6 p.m. This is when much of the youths' misbehavior occurs. The crisis is manufactured and real and trimming the edges won't solve the problem.

Amy Heeter 8 years, 6 months ago

Closing schools and cutting programs has never solved problems these actions just pass the buck to someone else.

KU_cynic 8 years, 6 months ago

Cuts have to comefirst at the top from the superintendent's office before cuts in teachers and others in the "front lines" of teaching.

Here's the link to the USD 497 "Educational Support & Distribution Center":

Nothing personal, but look at all those names and job titles and tell me that the central administration footprint can't be reduced by 15%.

Mike Myers 8 years, 6 months ago

Closing schools destroys neighborhoods.

George_Braziller 8 years, 6 months ago

Morgan you don't magically have $500,000 by closing a school. Factor in the related expenses associated with such an action and the savings are minimal at best.

Then you have to cram more kids into each classroom and building and suddenly you're asking for more money to expand the remaining schools because they are overcrowded.

Rinse and repeat. The process starts all over again.

"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."

Stephen Roberts 8 years, 6 months ago

George- You are missing the point. By closing schools and selling the property, you cut the costs associated with maintaing the school.

Lets look at the last round of school closings, I attended a meeting with a former school board member. We were told that we would save money by closing East Heights, Riverside & Centennial. Even though we were keeping both Centennial and East Heights (still paying to maintain them), not firing any teachers and keeping the Riverside principal, the district would still save one million dollars. When pressed, the board member became frustrated because we did not see how the money would be saved and she stated " That is what Randy says".

George_Braziller 8 years, 6 months ago

commuter - You missed my point. There aren't any more schools to cut. Bottom line is there won't be any real savings. Even if you sell the property where the school is located it's only a one-time influx of cash. That's it.

Closing a school just transfers the expenses to another building.

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