North Summit seeks concessions from the district’s employees
With state cuts to education, school districts around the state are seeking to find ways to compensate for the shortfall, including the North Summit School District, which began negotiations with its teachers and classified non-teaching employees associations last week. Talk of the cuts came as no surprise to teachers and employees, but coming to terms on how and where to tighten the belt will be a difficult process.
"We started negotiations, talking to the teachers about these things, last week. And with talks like this, I expect negotiations to last through the summer," said North Summit Superintendent Steve Carlsen.
One of the primary topics up for discussion is the possibility of shifting some of the cost of the current health plan from the district to employees. Under the current system the school district pays for 100 percent of the health plan, at a cost of $100 million. The board is considering asking employees to take over at least a five percent co-pay, an option that alone would save the district around $50,000.
The district pays 100 percent of the current dental plan as well at a cost of $95,000 per year and is considering a co-pay, or even doing away with the coverage entirely, which Carlsen said, many other districts have already done.
Another potential budget cut, albeit an equally unpopular one, is the option of the district implementing an across-the-board salary cut of 1- 2 percent. With the district’s salary budget standing at about $5 million, the savings would add up quickly. But school salaries at the Coalville-based district have held steady for some time and the board is not eager to make the cuts.
Two teachers in the district already retired willingly, but all retirees will need to be replaced, cutting into the savings, as the district is already at the minimum staff-wise that they are comfortable with, said Carlsen. But the turnover, shifting from veteran teachers to new hires, will save some money as new teachers fall lower on the pay scale than the retiring teachers. Either way, class size and the current student-teacher ratio will remain the same despite the reduced budget, he emphasized.
Beyond negotiating with the teachers association for concessions, the board will likely have to seek additional solutions for its budget gap, said Carlsen.
One alternative would be furloughing teachers. Utah requires students to be in school for 180 days, but the State Board of Education can allow districts the option of taking up to 5 days off, furloughing teachers and employees, as a means of manipulating budget deficits. North Summit is considering taking one day off during the 2010-2010 school year which would save $28,000 in salary, as well as an undetermined sum in utilities, e.g., fuel for busses, building heat and electricity, etc.
The district has decided against raising property taxes or taking advantage of an option to request money from what is called a local-voted leeway tax. Once districts withdraw the maximum amount of money, the leeway option is exhausted. Thus school districts are reluctant to use this option, wanting to keep it as a failsafe in the event of even more dire financial situations in the future.
Aside from negotiations with the teachers’ union North Summit will most likely end up diverting money away from their capital budget money set aside for physical plant and equipment improvements in order to cover the shortfall in maintenance and operations (M and O) made up primarily of salary and benefits expenditures. Carlsen intends to propose to the school board, a plan to buyout recently retired teachers, paying them $411,000 upfront in money from the capital budget loosening up $130,000 in benefits expenses that would go toward the retirement plans from M and O.
At the moment the district has little in the way of new capital expenditures, thus the district is free to use capital money towards its operating budget, but Carlsen warns that doing so without discretion could lead to a funding cliff down the road when capital expenses do arise and the money has already been used elsewhere. But he does expect to have to dip into capital funding. He said he would like to see the costs of bridging the budget deficit split at least 50-50 between diversions from capital and concessions from the associations.
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