MORGAN -- Facing another tough budget year, the Morgan County School Board has tentatively approved a priority list of budget cuts.
The cuts could include fewer supplies, as well as a reduction in teacher planning and development days.
The cuts "protect the integrity of the classroom, limit the losses to personnel incomes, and protect the interest of local taxpayers, many of which are also suffering from the economic woes of the present," Superintendent Ken Adams said.
Changes recently agreed upon by the board include charging a $25 travel participation fee for students involved in athletics and other extracurricular activities; asking schools to fund the actual cost of field trips; staging three buses at Mountain Green Elementary School during nonwinter months; selecting a low insurance bid; administrator adjustments; reducing the number of teacher planning days; reducing the number of full-time custodian contract days by eight; reducing 401K benefits for post-retirees; reducing administrative contracts by two days; eliminating two professional development days for teachers; reducing the supply budget by 5 percent; reducing classified staff's work days by two; eliminating extended-day kindergarten; adjusting the approval process for classified employees' overtime pay; adjusting levy rates; adjusting the board's salary and insurance; and reducing the "rainy day" fund.
The board voted to leave step and lane changes for district employees intact. Staffing will remain as is, including retention of the resource officer.
After negotiating with union heads as well as building principals for three weeks, Adams said, "We all agree that we have to make changes and that cuts are coming. We're going to have to make sacrifices. We want to protect the educational integrity of the program for students first, the contractual agreement of employees, respect the interests of the public and tax burdens, and spread the burden as fairly as possible."
Adams said he knew the changes would be difficult for some to accept.
"The next two school years will be trying ones for all of us," Adams said.
He said the steps identified by the board will "serve the needs of students, staff, and community in the best way possible with the limited funds available."
Adams said that in 2013, projected revenues will be $1.1 million less than 2009 revenues.
"Our country, state, and county have been dealing with the longest recession in our history. The longevity of the crisis has taken a toll on all of us," Adams said in an email. "Our schools are no exception."
At the same time, the district's enrollment has been on the incline. Since 2008, enrollment has increased by 242 students, while the staff has only grown by 3.5.
"Our class sizes are getting bigger," Adams said at a recent board meeting. "We now have more students, a slightly greater staff and significantly less funding."
In 2010, the state legislature allowed school districts to transfer capital funds--earmarked for buildings, land and upkeep -- to the general fund -- earmarked for teacher salaries, benefits, supplies and textbooks. The Morgan district took advantage of that, transferring $375,000 from the capital fund to the general fund over the years 2010 to 2012.
The result is a "rainy day" fund balance of $300,000, of which the board authorized use of $150,000 to help balance the 2012-2013 budget.
Since the legislation allowing such transfers has expired, the board is keeping the rainy day fund in anticipation of a challenging 2013-2014 school year as well as unforeseen catastrophic events such as the need to replace a roof or boiler.
In 2010 and 2011, the federal government forked over a combined $882,525 in stimulus money to the district. Those funds went to cover decreased state funding to the general fund in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Adams said.
Adams said stimulus money, saved funds and capital transfers have helped "keep class sizes manageable," but now those sources have "run their course and the reserves no longer exist."
"It is a fallacy that they fund enrollment growth," Adams said of the Legislature. "While the state Legislature in the past session tried hard to increase funding to schools, they were unable to generate enough new income to counteract the damage of the past five years. The state Office of Education and our local board have worked hard trying to walk a tight rope in hopes of the economy picking up and revenues from income tax increasing at sufficient levels to maintain the regular K-12 program. As we are all well-aware, the economy has not cooperated."