While the budget year begins on July 1, a spending resolution was adopted, as is routine, to bridge the month-long gap until the July 25 meeting when the budget will be finalized.
The recommended budget is based on no millage increase and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo is recommending the millage rate remain at 19.85 mills. The rate has been the same since the 2010-2011 school year.
The $518.74 million proposed budget is about $9 million less than the previous year’s budget.
The amount in the district’s reserve fund has decreased by $15 million in the last five years, but no money is recommended to be taken out of the reserves to balance the budget, with reserves now at $28 million.
“The proposed 2012-13 tentative budget reflects another year of the most financial challenges with which the school district has ever had to cope in preparing an annual balanced budget for consideration by the Board of Education,” Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo wrote in a letter to school board members that outlined this year’s budget considerations.
Petruzielo also said the budget addresses the district’s most critical and immediate instructional, operational, programmatic and facility needs in an “extraordinarily challenging economic climate.”
The school system continues to suffer austerity cuts from the state to the tune of $26.5 million, and forecasts another $9.3 million decreased in local property tax funding because of foreclosed and devalued properties, Petruzielo said.
The budget does not call for any layoffs, but reduces 93 teacher allotments, meaning those positions vacated by employees who resigned or retired last year will not be filled this year.
“We have reduced our workforce through not replacing all of the people who have resigned or retired,” school district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said.
The district will also not fill 40 other types of vacated positions, including 11 clerical positions and 14 bus drivers.
The budget also calls for eight furlough days for all staff, increases the instructional day by 15 minutes, maximizes class size, decreases substitute teacher compensation by $10, decreases long-term substitute teacher compensation by $11, reduces high school athletic transportation supplements and eliminates middle school athletic transportation supplements.
On a positive note, the budget calls for 3-percent longevity step increases for employees beginning January 2013. Step increases are salary increases for eligible employees, Jacoby said.
“We have proposed as part of the tentative budget for next year that steps be provided, both the state and local portions, but that (will) not occur until January,” Petruzielo said. “In effect, individuals would receive in dollar amounts half of what their normal step would be,” Petruzielo said.
Board Member Kim Cochran mentioned an idea she had presented to the board at previous meetings about transferring some of the costs associated with extracurricular activities from the school system, possibly creating a flat-rate activity fee for parents and booster clubs.
“I wanted to suggest and see how you guys felt about the idea of working it somehow like we used to with facilities so we don’t cover all the costs of what’s being done, but we (have) some kind of fee associated with that so we have some of that going back into the classroom,” Cochran said.
Vice Chairman Janet Read said she believes parents of students who participate in extracurricular activities already pay a significant amount of money in fees.
“I guess I would research what that savings would actually be,” Read said.
Cochran said the district could possibly apply some of its discretionary funding for students who would have difficulty paying the activity fee and might quit the activity otherwise.
“I guess for me it just comes down to we’re just not cutting as many things that I don’t feel like are our primary mission, “ Cochran said.
Petruzielo said he thought the right way to proceed would be to collect data and review the school system’s current fees.
“You might be astounded at what parents are currently paying for their kids to participate in lots of the athletic and other activities,” Petruzielo said. “I think once you have all that data in front of you, you’d be in a much better position to know what the current status quo is and then how that might be changed over time.”
Petruzielo said he was unsure if a flat-rate fee would make the most sense or a sliding scale for different activities, or if there should be any differentiation between sports fees and other activity fees.
“There are some sports kids are involved in now that I know the costs are extraordinary,” Petruzielo said.
In other business, Board Chairman Mike Chapman announced he is now chairman of a new political action committee, Neighbors for A Better Cherokee.
Chapman said that given the concerns other board members raised at a recent meeting regarding his use of official school board letterhead, he would not do so again.
“I will not be using school board letterhead in communications for the committee,” Chapman said. “We have our own resources and our own letterhead.”