School officials outline $1.7 mil. in possible cuts to budget

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Slash in state funding could mean higher local taxes, bigger class sizes, layoffs and furloughs in Unionville

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The cuts are deep, wide ranging and would mean less employees working in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District during the 2011-12 school year and even furloughs for the remaining employees.

But it remains probable that not all of them will be needed.

The school administration highlighted about $1.7 million in potential cuts to the school budget Tuesday night during a special meeting of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee to give the board options in meeting an apparent $1.1 million budget gap caused by cuts to state aid announced after the board gave preliminary approval to the 2011-12 budget in February.

In presenting the possible cuts, Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker stressed that the cuts were just options and that nothing had been formally decided — that the board as a whole had only seen the proposals a few hours prior to the public meeting. She stressed that the cuts were options, not endorsed as a whole by the administration.

“We would in no way recommend a reduction of that scope,” Parker said, noting that she hoped through discussion the board would suggest priorities to find the $1.1 million needed.

“This is a process we did not welcome,” Parker said before outlining the potential cuts to the budget, noting some frustration that schools are required to have their budgets in place before state aid figures are in place. Further complicating the issue is Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to change the district’s reimbursement rate for Federal Insurance Contributions Act payroll taxes from 50% to just 15% — a hit of more than $612,000 if the state legislature approves changes to the law needed to slash the funding.

In total, the district stands to lose $1,096,711 in state funds. While about $300,000 of that total are from a two-year infusion of federal stimulus funds — which were widely understood to be expiring — cuts in block grants ($97,000) and charter school reimbursement ($89,277) were something of a surprise.

Parker ran through the proposed cuts. In the first category, the district would slash $573,000 in spending by cutting building allocations by $60,000, cutting department budgets by $200,000, finding $50,000 in savings from health care, raising $50,000 in participation fees, and raising taxes to the Act 1 limit, which adds $213,087 by boosting the tax increase to 1.36% in Chester County and 5.06% in Delaware County.

Also potentially on the chopping block: the SAGE program which uses retired community members to work with students and forces two furloughs on staff: one day in July and three days in December. Those three cuts would save more than $150,000.

Administrators offered another $155,000 in cuts from the building and operations budget, moving $75,000 from capital reserve into operating funds, cutting funds for energy management, equipment, night security and the summer hiring of students for grounds work.

Those cuts can all be made without cutting staff, Parker said.

The next areas, however, would mean reductions in staff, including cutting positions clerical and para-professional support, totaling $244,000. Additionally, one guidance position and at least two social work positions would be cut, saving another $210,000.

Additionally, some teaching positions could be eliminated with the following impact: K-5 class increases (one teaching position used to better balance class size would be eliminated), cutting a middle school German teacher (only a partial savings, as other world language classes would have to be added), a middle school Learning-To-Learn teacher, a high school family and consumer science teacher, a high school physical education teacher (meaning larger gym classes) and a high school tech-computer applications teacher position.

Additional funds for summer curriculum writing and summer guidance counseling — about $50,000 — have been pulled from the budget, Parker said, as teachers have informed her that they will not participate until there is a new contract between the teachers and the district. Parker said she hoped that she would be able to restore the funds once a deal is concluded.

Additional, but unspecified savings could come from changes to hourly rates paid to co-curricular support staff, as well as from ongoing studies of the groundskeeping and custodial and transportation systems. Only the transportation study, though, is expected to be completed in time to be factored into the budget process, which must be complete by June.

Unfortunately, the district also doesn’t know what new deals with teachers and support staff will end up costing.

“We have a lot of unknowns ahead of us,” Finance Committee chair Keith Knauss said.

While none of the state cuts are in stone — in fact, a number of them may prove to be a tough sell to legislators facing angry constituents less than 18 months from elections — administrators said it would be mistake to just hope for the best from the legislature.

“This is not an area where we can cross our fingers and hope it works out,” said Robert Cochran, the district’s Director of Business and Operations.

Editor’s Note: We’ll have more on public reaction to the proposals in a follow-up story.

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