District mulling options to cut budget
October 13, 2012
Anticipating a budget shortfall of $5.5 million next year, Carson City School District officials are turning to the community through forums and an online survey to help figure out where to cut.At the first of two public workshops held Thursday evening, school board president Steve Reynolds assured teachers and parents and other community members their advice would be heeded.“There is no plan in place,” Reynolds said. “We do want public comment.”For the past several years, the Carson City School District has relied on its budget reserves to balance the budget despite a combination of reduced revenues, decreased student enrollment and increasing costs.However, the board approved a $59.5 million budget in May, which drew about $5.2 million from its reserves, dwindling the fund.While district officials originally estimated the shortfall to be $3.8 million, Superintendent Richard Stokes said that number failed to take into account money needed to fund pay increases promised to teachers moving up the pay scale.And everything is on the table. In one possible scenario presented by the school district, the entire $5.5 million — or 10 percent of the current budget — could come from staff reductions. That could include one executive position, three administrators, 50 teachers, 32 classified employees and one nurse.Another possibility would be about 20 cuts, achieved by increasing student-to-teacher ratios, reducing bus service to only special education and homeless students, a reorganization of staff and outsourcing services such as nutrition workers, custodians and maintenance and grounds workers.Trustee Barbara Myers said it made the most sense to look at the numbers and find solutions that could enacted quickly.“If salaries and benefits account for approximately 84 percent of the total budget, at least 84 percent of the cuts need to come from salaries and benefits,” she said. “I think we have to look at what can realistically be in place by next September.”Carson Middle School teacher asked that a solution be found that balanced staff reductions along with other cuts.“Maybe 50 percent from staff and 50 percent from other areas,” he said. “That seems a lot more palatable.”Teacher Jennifer Ward DeJoseph said she knew it would be unpopular, but suggested a 5 percent pay cut across the board rather than laying off employees. “We do work really hard, but on the same token you’re decreasing services to students by reducing staff,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s a give and take. I think that’s a viable option.”However, salaries are negotiated through the teacher’s union and out of the hands of the school board. “If you have ideas like that, contact your association representatives,” advised Stokes.Linda Csiga, a 22-year veteran teacher, came armed with suggestions, which were met with applause from other participants. “Teachers are constantly pulled out for training, and we have to find substitutes,” she said. “I don’t think we need all of these days. We have a lot of consultants or people on special assignments. I think we could combine their jobs.”She said she saw areas where the district could save operationally as well. “It can be 85 degrees outside and the heat is blasting,” Csiga said. Explaining the system is controlled by a company in Reno, there is nothing she can do about it. “I’m just asking for an off switch,” she said. “I’m not asking to control it.”She also suggested finding a less-expensive alternative to the Success For All reading program, less standardized testing, a system of sharing principals and vice principals, and offering buy-outs to longer-serving employees.Former bus driver Norma Taylor called for a study into a four-day school week. Eagle Valley Middle School teacher Bonnie Preston pressed trustees for specifics on which programs were on the chopping block. “Music, band, art would be over my dead body,” Joanna Wilson responded, adding that career and technical education “would be over my almost-dead body. Those are things that give life skills.”Stokes said charging a pay-to-play fee as nearby school districts have done — charging students a $25 fee to participate in extra-curricular activities, up to a $75 cap — would raise about $50,000 for the school district.Note cards were also distributed among the more than 30 community members who attended the meeting. They were invited to write suggestions they weren’t comfortable sharing publicly. “We’re talking about really sensitive things,” said Trustee Lynette Conrad. “People are going to lose their jobs.”Suggestions and comments are also being taken through a survey posted at carsoncityschools.com. Stokes will also accept recommendations over the phone at (775) 283-2100.The second meeting will be 7 p.m. Wednesday at Eagle Valley Middle School.If you goWHAT: Carson City School District budget workshopWHEN: 7 p.m. WednesdayWHERE: Eagle Valley Middle SchoolOn the WebWhere would you cut? Go to carsoncityschools.com to take the survey.