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The York school district plans to cut 22 positions and reduce the number of work days for some administrators and staff to cut about $1.9 million in costs for the coming school year.
Superintendent Vernon Prosser, who spent months developing a cost-cutting plan for 2013-14 that has been approved by the school board, said the district can’t continue to balance its bottom line by taking money from a reserve fund — as it has over the past three years.
“We had used reserves with the hope the economy would improve faster,” said Prosser. “And because it didn’t, we’re to the point where we can’t use reserves any more.”
He said the district avoided budget cuts this year by taking $1.5 million from its reserve fund to balance the $37.9 million budget. “We knew this was going to be the last year we were going to be able to use reserves,” he said.
Prosser said some job cuts will come from attrition — where people are retiring or moving to other positions — but others will be layoffs. He said all employees affected by the cuts have been notified.
The district will save about $1.8 million in the budget year that begins July 1 by eliminating 22 jobs, he said. Another $93,427 in savings will come from reducing the annual contracted work days for about 20 employees, including some administrators and other certified staff.
School board chair Shirley Harris said the cuts are “something we had to do, not something we wanted to do.”
“It was not an easy decison for the board of trustees, by any means,” Harris said. “We looked at different scenarios, and basically what we came up with is what we had to do.”
Prosser informed district employee of the budget cuts in a Feb. 27 letter. In addition, he is giving PowerPoint budget presentations to employees at each school and other staff between now and March 29. Although the school board won’t approve its final budget until early summer, Prosser said he wanted to notify affected employees as soon as possible.
In his letter to employees, Prosser said the district has cut costs in the past through job attrition — with 21 teaching positions not being replaced in the last four years. Because of those reductions, he said, the current cuts aren’t as drastic as what would have been necessary earlier.
“If we had done this a few years ago, I believe it would have been more severe than what we’re having to do now,” he said.
The job cuts at the elementary school level include two art and music teaching positions, five in-school suspension assistants, five media assistants and two instructional coaches.
Prosser said Hunter Street and Jefferson elementary schools will share art and music teachers. That’s already being done at Cotton Belt and H.C. Johnson elementaries. “Art and music is important to us, and we want to do everything we can to offer those services,” he said.
At the middle school level, the cuts include an instructional coach and teacher assistant. At the high school, he said, they include an administrator, three other certified staffers and a teaching assistant. Jobs for part-time French and masonry instructors were already being phased out, he said.
One administrative job is being eliminated at the district office, he said.
School board member Chris Revels said the budget cuts are unfortunate but necessary. “We managed to put these cuts off as long as we could the past two years, and we’re just to the point of no return.”
Revels added: “Everybody who works in that school district serves a purpose — a very valuable part of the educational process.”
However, Revels said that unless the state’s formula for funding public education improves or the Legislature funds schools more generously, “we’re forced to deal with budgets that are less than adequate.”
Prosser said the district surveyed its employees about budget cuts and got 263 responses on a range of suggestions — including a four-day week, student fees, furloughs and others.
He said the state didn’t allow school districts to have furloughs this school year and he doesn’t expect them to be allowed in the coming year. He also chose not to add student fees for academics or extracurricular activities.
Prosser said his goals in making the cuts were to protect the core instructional program and to instead reduce support positions. Another priority was to maintain the reserve fund.
The $6.2 million reserve fund — down from $9.2 million five years ago — now amounts to about 17 percent of general fund expenditures. He said good financial management calls for school districts to keep a reserve that’s about 20 percent of its general fund.
In addition to budgeting without the reserve money next year, he said, the district expects to lose other revenue sources. In a “worst-case scenario,” he said, revenue could be down as much as $2.4 million.
For example, he said, the district won’t receive about $314,000 in state money given to compensate schools for revenue loss due to the 2007 property tax reform measure, called Act 388.
Act 388 exempted owner-occupied homes from property taxes that pay for school operations. In place of the property tax revenue, the law added a penny on the dollar to the state sales tax, which was supposed to make up the difference. It didn't — and the economy spiraled into a recession, forcing school districts across the state to slash budgets.
Prosser said the district also received $274,000 last year in additional state funding for special education programs and $369,000 to pay for a 2 percent teacher pay step increase — funds it may not see in the coming year.
Prosser said he’s unsure about the impact of the federal budget sequestration on federally funded school programs. He expects York schools to lose some revenue, but “we still have to deliver those services,” he said.
Prosser said he believes the cuts will put the district in a manageable financial situation for the future. However, Harris said she worries about the long-term future of state funding for education.
“The money is just not here. We’re not seeing it fom the state,” she said.