07 Apr Superintendent Presents Proposed School Budget Cuts of $10.6 million

April 7, 2010

By: Jim Sullinger
Source: McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Olathe School Board members know that a lot of unpleasant budget decisions lie ahead but they also know that teachers are supporting them.

Teachers filled the board room Thursday night to listen to Superintendent Pat All tell board members they must fill a projected $12 million deficit in next year’s school budget.

<p class="loose" style="margin: 14px 0px 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-top: 0px; display: block;"& gt;She presented more than $10.6 million in proposed budget reductions, adding that it is still $1.4 million short of the goal.

Calin Kendall, president of the Olathe chapter of the National Education Association, told the board that teachers support them.

"We know there are some incredibly difficult decisions ahead of you," he said, adding that teachers are with the board in good times and bad.

The biggest reduction would be in personnel: 62 teaching positions, five nurses and 12 coaching and sponsor positions, 15 administration and support staff, 22 special educationteachers and paraprofessionals, 19 custodians and grounds staff and 24 classified support staff.

All said that unless the Kansas Legislature reduces school funding even further, no one will be laid off and that the staff reduction can be made through normal attrition. She said that the district already has identified 128 em ployees who plan to use the district’s retirement or resignation incentives.

Under her proposal, classroom sizes will increase by one to two students across all grade levels.

During the current school year, the district eliminated 81 teaching positions and 25 other positions–all through attrition.

While the staff is shrinking, enrollment is not. The district is expecting an enrollment increase next year of 500 students and the district plans to open a new middle school.

"We have more students and less money," she said. "We’ve never seen tough times like this before."

In addition, the district lost $5.4 million this year when voters ended the county education sales tax and diverted the money to pay for a new county jail. It also lost another $2 million in state special education aid.

Administrators said revenue reductions this year resulted in a hiring freeze, deferred purchases, further budget cuts, mid-year staff resignations and utility savings. Reserves could be used, if needed, to balance the budget at the end of this school year.

Angie Hedges, an English teacher at Olathe Northwest High, said the proposed cuts have teachers and staff on edge.

"The staff is concerned about the kids in the classroom," she said.

The board took no action Thursday on the recommended cuts. They will be considered over the next few months as the board prepares its final 2010-11 school budget.

The superintendent warned that school districts still don’t know whether the Legislature will cut state funding even more. That won’t be decided until sometime next month when lawmakers meet for a wrap-up session.

"The only certainty is uncertainty," All said.

The total operating budget for the district this year is $226 million. All said that 74 percent of the district’s operating revenue comes from the state. More than 160 jobs have been eliminated since 2008 and nearly 500 staff members were relocated or reassigned.

While Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley have reached their maximum local tax levies, Olathe has not.

Harlan Parker, a board member, noted that increasing the local property tax levy to the maximum allowed by law would increase revenue by $4.7 million. However, All said that increase won’t solve Olathe budget shortfall.

Parker said the district needed help from lawmakers in Topeka.

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