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Tough decisions reflected in 2011-12 school budget PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brenda Johnson Brandt   

Breathing room in the Holyoke School District Re-1J budget is gone.

With revenue down $336,353 and standard costs up $115,388, the district joins those across the state in the challenge to build a budget.

Details of Holyoke’s preliminary budget for 2011-12 were shared with the school board by Supt. Bret Miles at the June 7 meeting. The preliminary budget is scheduled for approval June 21.

Two factors led to the decrease in revenue. The greatest impact is the change in per pupil funding at the state level for 2011-12. Holyoke’s per pupil revenue will drop $510 per pupil to $6,848.

This represents a 13 percent decrease in per pupil funding over the last three budget years.

Additionally, the district is losing students, with next year’s preliminary budget built on a reduction of eight pupils.

“While we will continue to work toward meeting our goals, we must recognize that resources do matter,” said Miles.

Each decision in the budget preparation was carefully weighed by board parameters and budget and facilities committee budget priorities.

Total revenues and total expenditures balance at $4,992,774 in the proposed budget.

A portion of the revenue ($133,333) comes from the reserve, explained Miles. This represents one-third of the available fund balance above the minimum acceptable balance of $1.2 million.

The budget also includes a carryover of $186,493 from the 2010 mill levy override. This is designated for capital projects and was not used in the first year of the override because the district is waiting for the outcome of the BEST grant awards.

Even in times of reduced revenues and cuts to expenditures, there are some costs that increase. These amount to $115,388 for 2011-12.

That includes the following: $4,000 for workers’ compensation insurance, $6,282 for payroll for adjusting staff members to appropriate years of service, $35,967 for increased costs for Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA), $38,950 for increased health insurance costs and $30,189 for the new Homework Center, with a majority of the Center costs going toward staffing.

“We are no longer able to do more with less,” Miles added. “We will do our best work, and we will work toward our goals outlined by the board in Destination 2016.

“However, we must acknow­ledge that we are asking more of our people and providing fewer resources. We just can’t continue to expect there won’t be tough choices that directly affect staff and students,” said Miles.


Tough decisions affect multiple areas

As a result of the drop in revenue and increase in costs, tough decisions were required in the areas of personnel, class size/scheduling, capital projects, technology and teacher supplies.

Utilizing natural attrition, four staff resignations or retirements will be covered from within, using existing staff. This includes a JH science teacher, business/computers position, second-grade position and alternative high school director.

More specifically, teacher Cindi Beavers will replace Clark Ginapp as alternative school director, as Ginapp is leaving his position.

Fourth-grade teacher Laura Loutensock will take on technology in the elementary school. One of the three kindergarten teachers will move to the fourth grade, leaving two sections of kindergarten classes, as there are 42 enrolled students.

Second grade will also move to two sections instead of three. Grades 7-12 science will move to two teachers instead of three.

Miles explained there is still an emphasis on primary grades, given the fact the elementary will “flood” during reading and math time, keeping the teacher-student ratios small.

The strategy called “flooding” finds other teachers such as ESL, Title I, specials instructors and well-trained aides to have time dedicated for teaching reading and math groups.

“I also believe we’re in an era where technology is a core subject,” said Miles.

“As we continue to provide more access for students, we increase our responsibility to provide good instruction on how to use it safely and efficiently,” he added.

“Like reading, technology touches all subjects and sticks with kids throughout their school careers.”

Career development was incorporated into ICAP instead of being a separate course option, and other classes were changed due to interest.

Other personnel cuts were made that are farther away from the classroom.

Each building was reduced to one secretary, the special education teacher aide position at the JR/SR high was eliminated due to decreased number of students, one bus route was reduced, one half-time custodian position was reduced and the curriculum/assessment director position was lost.

Other reductions include two percent to each building budget and seven percent to the districtwide budget.

The fuel budget has run under budget by $6,000 for two years in a row, so it was reduced by $5,000.

Likewise, the utility budget has run under by about $9,000 for two years in a row, so it was reduced by $8,000.

Textbook purchase is one line item that has been drastically reduced from $45,000 to $6,024 for 2011-12. A large textbook purchase was not planned this coming year for reasons totally disconnected from the budget.

With the changes at the state with standards and assessments, it’s not a good year to purchase new materials without a clear understanding of what will change, said Miles.

However, the downside to this is when a textbook line item needs to be put back in next year, it will be a challenge.

The board made technology Goal 1.2 in Destination 2016. In May of 2011, the district spent $93,000 on technology with the next phase of the Promethean Board Project.

The 2011-12 budget includes adding one mobile lab in each building, an addition to the server and an upgraded elementary lab. This will take the full amount dedicated to technology from the mill levy override, as well as money from the general fund.

The capital projects budget has historically been an annual allocation of $180,000. This preliminary budget has allocated $120,000, and a specific list of projects will be identified with costs at the June 21 meeting. There will also be a long-term capital plan covering areas of facilities, grounds, transportation and technology.

By reducing one more bus route, there is not a need to replace a bus this year or next, which has been a significant drain on the capital projects budget in years when a bus is purchased.

However, like the textbooks, Miles said getting the money back in the budget for a bus will be a challenge. In two years, it will have to be a priority and may come at the expense of some other want or need.

Miles acknowledged the principals for finding creative solutions in their buildings to keep the district focused on what it takes to meet the goals, regardless of reduced resources. He also cited budget and finance director Sharon Thompson, as well as the budget and facilities committee.

Miles pointed out the role the mill levy override election played in the budget. Without it, he said the district would have needed to find another $75,000 of cuts, had no new technology and would have fallen far behind in facility maintenance.

“We are most fortunate to have a supportive local community in these times of state shortfalls, he added.

Holyoke Enterprise June 16, 2011