District budget committee recommendations aired
Budget committee recommendations were presented at the Park City Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Feb.6, to a meeting-room filled with people holding a vested interest in possible budget cuts for 2007-08.
Perhaps as important as the recommendations, was the process itself of sub-committees analyzing the system in detail, as efficiency experts might, scrutinizing all facets of school district spending, identifying areas of concern.
The preliminary recommendations, which are only that, recommendations, offers a well-rounded, thoughtful look into ways of cutting district costs.
Seven sub-committees met for two months, each focusing on particular aspects of the district budget. The sub-committees reorganized as a group on Jan 31, to present individual findings to the committee, which then made recommendations on ways to cut district costs with the least adverse impact. Acting superintendent Tom Van Gorder stressed that the recommendations were preliminary.
Those recommendations were presented at the district meeting, attended by administrators, teachers the Education Foundation and Education Association, parents as well as members of the community.
The seven sub-committees were broken down into Community Education, Curriculum, Fiscal, Human Resources, Student Services, Support Services, and Other.
If all recommendations are implemented as proposed, yearly savings to the district would approximate $2 million, according to the committee.
Recommendations cut across the board, but some have voiced concerns that these suggested compromises could reduce the district to mediocrity.
"If all the ideas were implemented, the district would be decimated, as far as performance and morale," predicted Bob Burns, head of the Park City Education Association, which represents teachers. "But I also think that the district, by preparing for these cuts, can have them in order, prioritized, itemized and scrutinized. They can make decisions on what’s best for the students, what’s best for the teachers and what’s best for the district."
"Our first concern is to reduce expenditures to match revenues," said District Business administrator Patty Murphy. "We’ll know what level of state funding we will be getting in March," she said, referring to education funding by the legislature, now in session. But Murphy didn’t expect a great influx of money from the state, as most of the school district budget comes from property taxes.
One other option for generating revenue is to raise the voted leeway, which, with public approval, would increase property taxes to benefit the school district. But Murphy sees a maximum of $2 million generated from that, and once the voted leeway has been brought up to the allowable state maximum, should there be a deficit in future years because the voted leeway tax not be raised any more. Ideally, Murphy hopes to balance the budget before having to raise property taxes and raise the voted leeway.
One if not the major issue, is class size, which in Park City is now averaging 20 students per teacher, compared with the state average of 23 students per teacher, said Murphy. "We can’t afford to keep them that low," she said. "But there lies the problem, where do you draw the line?"
"Research has shown the smaller the class, the better the performance of the student," said Burns. increasing student-to-teacher ratio, "Are we gaining money that will help students elsewhere without sacrificing much in the decrease in student performance?" Burns asked.
Murphy said that one problem this year was overstaffing as a result of 45 fewer students than expected. She believes primary home owners with school-aged kids sold their homes and moved out of the area, and that those homes were by in large, purchased by secondary home owners. Murphy predicts fewer students this year than last. The cost the additional staffing of teachers pressures the budget.
Said Burns, "What’s critical is that the data needs to be accurate. They’re still not lockdown sure on the data. You have new personnel, an antiquated system and that’s one of the components the committee has to look at is a new system, but there is expense to change the system."
District Business administrator Patty Murphy, in her first year in the district, is working to unravel an accounting system where personnel have been paid from the wrong accounts, district schools are not standardized in their accounting practices, and the State-supplied computerized accounting system, she admits, "is ripe for error and is a setup for failure." She related how when teachers recently received a 1 percent raise, the change had to be entered individually for every teacher in the district. The district hired full-time, accountant/internal auditor Mike Heagren, who Murphy sees as invaluable in helping her reorganize and streamline the accounting system.
The full budget committee findings and recommendations are on the http://www.pcschools.us . E-mail addresses of the seven sub-committee heads, as well as the school board members, are available on the website to express opinions and propose ideas. The public forum on Feb. 27 will provide additional input for the board to consider before they draw the final budget in March.
A public hearing will be held at Ecker Hill International Middle School on Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m. The school district budget will open for discussion, and input and ideas are welcome. The school board will make its final budget decisions in March, when they implement the budget for 2007-08.
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