School budget cuts up for vote

by Tom Coombe

Despite a budget shortfall of well over $500,000, Ely school programs are likely to remain intact in 2004-2005.<BR><BR>Tuesday (7 p.m., board room at Ely High School), Ely School Board members are set to act on recommendations to trim a $569,072 budget shortfall through a combination of reductions in personnel and use of reserve funds.<BR><BR>The district’s administrative team bypassed cuts in school offerings and extracurricular programs and instead advanced alternative budget-cutting measures, including a $134,000 savings that will be realized by the previously approved plan to consolidate the elementary principal and superintendent positions upon the July retirement of current superintendent Ray Toutloff.<BR><BR>Also recommended were:<BR><BR>• Eliminating a full-time high school mathematics position, a .3 full-time-equivalent reduction in high school social studies and a .3 full-time equivalent elementary teaching position at a savings of $121,357;<BR><BR>• Using $293,715 in reserve funds designated for school bus replacement;<BR><BR>• Reducing the staff development budget by $10,000.<BR><BR>Those measures would balance the budget, but Toutloff cautioned last week that current projections don’t include any staff salary increases for either the 2003-2004 or 2004-2005 school terms. <BR><BR>School board negotiators remain in contract talks with district staff.<BR><BR>Nevertheless, board members will review a budget this week that will eliminate the large deficit they faced several weeks ago.<BR><BR>Declines in student enrollment will cut staffing needs in the school system, and Toutloff said that administrators decided it was time to make use of a school reserve fund that exceeds $2 million, according to an audit completed last June.<BR><BR>“For lack of a better term that’s our rainy day fund, and the rainy day is here,” Toutloff said. “We have a reserve.”<BR><BR>The budget gap has also apparently ended plans to create a quasi-administrative position in the elementary school.<BR><BR>Current elementary principal Tom Bruels has been hired to replace Toutloff as superintendent, while retaining elementary principal duties.<BR><BR>Previously, board members had talked of naming an assistant principal or dean of students to take on some administrative tasks in the elementary school.<BR><BR>But instead, the administrative team has recommended a less expensive option.<BR><BR>Toutloff said the budget includes a $5,000 set-aside to cover some of the duties that Bruels had been responsible for as elementary principal.<BR><BR>“Basically we’re going to hire somebody to take over the duties of the safety patrol, somebody to take over the district’s test coordinating, and a position which we’ll call the teacher in charge,” said Toutloff.<BR><BR>On days when Bruels is out of town for superintendent’s work, the district will designate a teacher in charge to handle some administrative and discipline duty at Washington Elementary.<BR><BR>“We’ll have a teacher in charge for the year, and one of the main things would be that they would have to be here one-half hour before school starts and one-half hour after school ends, just on days that the superintendent is out of town,” said Toutloff.<BR><BR>The administrative team, which includes Toutloff, Bruels and current high school principal Joselyn Murphy, made the budget recommendations after an initial budget study by the board’s budget and finance committee.<BR><BR>“We feel that this was directed by the board,” said Toutloff.<BR><BR>The district apparently won’t fill the high school mathematics teaching position being vacated by the retiring John Anderson, and the budget plan calls for part-time teaching reductions in both the elementary and high schools.<BR><BR>Toutloff deferred comment on how the elementary reduction would be implemented until Tuesday’s board meeting.<BR><BR>“Right now this is our proposal and based on informal discussions we’ve had it seems like everybody will go along with it,” said Toutloff.<BR><BR>The budget gap was more than twice what was first projected in February, when budget committee members met with administrators and department heads.<BR><BR>Initial estimates were off, Toutloff said, because district finance manager Jeanette Swain had not completed budget projections for the next school year.<BR><BR>Toutloff based his estimate on expected losses of revenue - due almost entirely to declines in student enrollment.<BR><BR>An expected net loss of more than 40 students will result in about $230,000 in lost revenue.<BR><BR>But talk at the initial budget meeting were apparently based on assumptions that expenditures would remain the same, although Swain told budget committee members that yearly pay increases for teachers with 1-13 years experience were factored in.<BR><BR>Once the expenses were tabulated, the budget deficit mushroomed to just shy of $570,000, about 10 percent of the district’s total budget.<BR><BR>The district expects to spend about $200,000 more than it takes in this year, taking a chunk out of district reserve accounts.<BR><BR>