By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
In a special-called work session Tuesday, the Madison County School Board looked at ways of reducing a projected $2.84 million draw from its reserves to fund the 2013-14 budget.
The district’s chief finance officer Debbie Frazier presented several cost-saving options that would whittle the number down to $1.63 million.
She also talked about cuts already made and potential cuts the board has taken “off the table.”
This session was the last before the regularly scheduled May 28 budget meeting during which the board would adopt a tentative budget for the coming fiscal year.
Madison County Schools will be ending the 2012-13 year with a $5.6 million general fund balance (the same as last year), plus around $6 million in capital outlay funds set aside for general fund use, Frazier said.
If the board chooses, it could cover the remaining $1.63 million needed to avoid dipping into its contingency balance by drawing from its outlay funds. However, if state funding continues to decline, “then there will be more significant cuts (to the budget),” Frazier said.
“We can’t rely on one-time monies for recurring expenses,” she said.
However, Frazier projected an additional $360,000 in general fund revenues generated from multiple sources.
She said the only action the board can take to increase revenue is to adopt property tax rates that would increase revenue by 4 percent, which would generate an additional $700,000.
The move would “not only impact the current year budget, but every future budget that the board will have,” Frazier said.
Each year, the board is required to hold a public hearing if it chooses to adopt more than the compensating rates on real and personal property.
Under state law, a compensating rate generates the same revenue as the previous year, plus revenue from new properties.
Revenue calculations are based on property values determined by a county’s Property Value Administrator.
In August 2012, the board voted 4-0 to keep the same 58.3-cent tax (per $100 assessed value) on real estate as the previous year and to lower the personal property rate to 58.8 cents, a drop from 59.4.
The board came to that decision after only hearing opposition to a tax increase from those who attended the public hearing.
Although the board is ending this year with a 7- to 9-percent contingency fund ($5.6 million) and the extra $6 million set aside from capital outlay funds, the cuts were proposed to give the board “maximum flexibility for the future,” said Superintendent Tommy Floyd.
“A number of districts are at the 2-percent (contingency fund) level,” he said, “meaning they have no funds to draw from.”
However, the state needs to improve funding for public education, Floyd said. “I’ve said it; our governor said it; our commissioner (of education) said it, and I know that you have to wait to see it happen.”
Some proposed cost-saving measures
Between March and May, more than 50 meetings were conducted with the district’s principals to discuss allocation of funds in each school, Floyd said.
During those meetings, the principals looked at needed staffing and came up with a list of “unnecessary staff positions – not people – positions, that went into the current budget that we can do without,” he said.
The positions include both certified and classified staff and would generate a savings of $335,000, he said.
Another proposed cut is to the amount allotted to each school for supplies. Districts are normally required to give schools 3.5 percent of the state SEEK base funding, said Frazier, which would be $133.95 per average daily attendance (ADA) in the 2013-14 budget.
However, because of the financial situation faced by districts, temporary provisions allow districts to reduce that amount to $100 per ADA. But at a previous work session, the board discussed a reduction to $120 instead, Frazier said. The board will vote on this option May 28.
The board also looked at three options for the school nursing program. The “leanest” option would save the district $152,000.
However, district nurse coordinator Becky Carr said that proposal was “bare-bones” and that nurses could visit the schools only once a week if it was adopted.
A more in-depth story about the nursing program options will publish in the Richmond Register later this week.
Ways the district already is saving
Elementary schools are phasing into a new math program that will qualify for Title 1 federal funding. The $75,000 Everyday Math program currently in use could not be paid with federal funds, Frazier said.
The district saved the $70,000 budgeted to prop up state funding for the preschool program. Preschool was eliminated in two schools and those students go to other locations in their area, Frazier said.
Board member Becky Coyle wanted to verify that every student who qualified for preschool would be served and that students’ needs would still be met.
Floyd said the district would add preschool teachers if needed. However, based on historical student numbers from summer preschool screenings, “we think we stay out of the general fund,” he said.
The district also expects to receive an increase in state preschool funding next year, Frazier said.
At the May 9 board meeting, the board voted to reclassify full-time substitute teachers to para-educators, which would save the district $129,000.
Options that are ‘off the table’
Board members chose not to make a motion on a proposal to cut one to two contract days from the school calendar after district employees showed up en masse at the May 9 board meeting to protest the measure.
That proposal has been taken “off the table,” Frazier said.
The board also will not make adjustments to or eliminate employees’ dental plan and the district’s three school resource officers (sworn police officers) will remain in schools for now.
The cost is roughly $100,000 for the two officers in Richmond and the one in Berea, Floyd said.
Board member Mary Renfro said she had discussed an option with Sheriff Jerry Combs before he passed away (Monday).
She proposed replacing SROs with retired officers who have their own transportation, will work for between $12 to $16 per hour and are paid no benefits, she said.
“They could do it, and have even more police officers in (schools), at the same amount (of money) or probably even less,” she said.
The board previously voted to replace a part-time central office staff position with a full-time director position, which pays less than an assistant superintendent. The position is 50 percent federally funded and the net cost to the general fund is $20,000.
However, by not replacing a central office person who resigned last week, the district will save $19,000. The position was partially federally funded, Frazier said.
The district also will start paying $70,000 out of the general fund for Infinite Campus, a student information system that allows parents and students to view assignments, attendance, grades, a student’s schedule, teacher comments and upcoming events like field trips, tests and assignments.
The district hoped to use grant money to fund the program, Frazier said, but using that grant money could compromise the district’s eligibility for other funding and could have a negative impact on the budget in the future.
“I never had felt that that (Infinite Campus) was really getting our money’s worth,” said board member John Lackey.
However, the program is state-mandated and eliminating the program is not an option, Frazier said.
Another way to save
Frazier said the district spends about $1 million a year on substitute teachers.
In a salary schedule approved under Superintendent Mike Caudill, substitutes get paid a certain daily rate for the first 10 consecutive days of their assignment, but get bumped up on the 11th day depending on the teacher’s rank and experience.
For example, a Rank 3 certified teacher with zero years experience gets a 60-day assignment.
During the first ten days, that teacher would earn $94.19 a day for a total of $941.90.
After the 10th consecutive day in that single teaching position, the long-term substitute will get paid off the teacher’s pay scale and make $191.71 a day for the next 50 days for a total of $9585.50.
For the entire 60-day assignment, the teacher would get paid $10,527.40. However, if a long-term substitute were paid right off the substitute scale for the entire 60 days, they would only get paid $5,651.40.
Assistant superintendent Dr. Kevin Hub said the district is spending more than $300,000 each year just for long-term substitutes. The salary schedule change could cut that amount in half, he said.
“So that’s a $150,000 to $200,000 savings without a negative impact on students,” he said.
Board member Beth Brock was concerned about the impact on students if highly qualified substitutes do not apply for the positions because they are not getting the bump in pay on the 11th day.
Hub said it is not uncommon for teachers to take the spring semester off for a maternity leave, for example.
There is “a pot full” of December college graduates who are looking for jobs, he said. But, during that time of the year, there are not a lot of full-time positions available.
“We have several examples of December graduates who filled in as a spring semester full-time sub and that’s essentially a 12-, 16-, 18-week job interview that they are more than willing to do for essentially $100 a day because they get the chance to work,” Hub said.
These are the same teachers that would be hired if a full-time position were available, he said.
“Instruction will not suffer and we are still going to get plenty of very highly qualified, motivated and interested people who want to take these long-term sub jobs,” he said.
Floyd said this is the first time the board has been asked to modify the substitute salary schedule since it was first adopted.
Hub said back then, the district was having a hard time finding substitute teachers.
“But the economy is entirely different now,” he said. There are hundreds on the list “dying to get into positions and willing to work.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.