PAGE rep: ‘Where are teachers, staff on cost-cutting committee?’
Fayette PAGE (Professional Association of Georgia Educators) President and McIntosh High School teacher Joseph Jarrell after Monday's Board of Education meeting expressed concerns about the make-up of the budget committee charged with coming up with cost-cutting measures.
“There are no teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, or other non-administrative personnel on the committee. A group that is representative of all categories of employees would be better suited for the task. Employees are concerned about how much input they will have in this process,” said Jarrell.
Jarrell said in 2008, 2009 and 2010, several committees met to deal with various aspects of the budget. Those meetings took place in the late afternoon and evening hours. There was no shortage of staff members, from all categories, who volunteered to serve on those committees. This should be done again at this time, Jarrell said.
The budget task force includes Assistant Superintendent Sam Sweat, Comptroller Laura Brock, Exceptional Children’s Services Director Chris Horton and Linda Beaubien, Lynn Ridgeway, Audrey Toney, Rae Presley-King, Randy Hudson, Louis Robinson and Eddie Pollard.
As for the budget committee, Superintendent Jeff Bearden said Sam Sweat will report on the activities of the committee at each school board meeting.
The impetus is the severe financial outlook for the school system. For the past two years the Fayette County Board of Education used its fund balance to adopt budgets that spent millions more than the school system brought in. Those days have come to an end.
Bearden at the Aug. 20 meeting announced the formation of an administrative committee that will recommend cuts of up to $20 million for the 2013-2014 school year. Representing nearly 12 percent of this year’s $177 million budget, those cuts will center largely on personnel.
Bearden said a recent meeting with Ga. Dept. of Education (DOE) Deputy Superintendent for Finance Scott Austensen on ways to address the school system’s budget challenges centered on employees, employee benefits, school system revenue and issues such as training for teachers in adapting to potential increases in class sizes.
The budget for the current school year calls for spending about $177 million but receiving only $163 million in tax revenue. The shortfall this year is being made up by spending almost all of the system’s cash reserves. A similar imbalance in revenues versus expenditures occurred in the previous year when another $15 million in fund balance was used to balance that budget. And for the upcoming school year that begins in July there is essentially no fund balance to use to comply with the state requirement to adopt a balanced budget.
The school board is currently looking at closing several schools. But those possible closures represent only a small percentage of the total amount of savings that will likely be needed to balance the upcoming budget. Bearden several months ago said the cuts needed to balance the budget next year would come largely from personnel since 90.8 percent of the school system’s expenses are personnel-related.
Bearden at the Monday meeting referenced, but did not review, his letter to faculty and staff that listed more than a dozen potential cuts.
“We continue to see a decrease of revenue at the local level (property taxes), austerity cuts from the state ($15 million for us this year alone), and declining student enrollment. We reduced our expenditures from last year to this year by more than $11 million,” Bearden said in the Aug. 17 letter. “To balance this year’s budget, we reduced our work year and benefits for all staff. We also eliminated more than 80 positions throughout the system. We were able to avoid a reduction in force, and we protected programs and services for students. In spite of all of these cuts, we had to exhaust most of our fund balance.”
Beyond the cuts already made and the use of nearly all of the school system’s available funds to balance the current budget, expenses will have to be cut by up to another $20 million to balance the 2013-2014 budget next June.
“Unless we see great improvement in the economy that translates to additional revenue for our system, we may have to reduce our budget by as much as $20 million for the 2013-2014 school year. This will be an arduous task. I am asking for your input,” Bearden said in the letter to faculty and staff.
To address the financial issues Bearden in the letter said he has formed an administrative task force charged with coming up with additional budget-cutting recommendations. Those recommendations are expected before the Christmas break.
Another aspect of the DOE meeting dealt with generating additional revenue by accepting qualified out-of-county students who would pay some form of tuition. Those students would also generate state dollars, at approximately $4,000 per year, that would follow them from their county of residence to Fayette County.
Though the community has previously voiced opposition to the idea, Bearden said he believes it is something that should be considered. A tuition policy is currently being developed and will be presented to the school board in the fall.
Bearden said another topic at the DOE meeting dealt with the number of students in the class room.
“If class sizes are going to increase, and I believe we will have no choice, we must make sure our teachers are trained on how best to utilize technology to insure that instruction can continue to be differentiated and that the education of our students is not impaired by larger class sizes. We have to think differently about our instructional delivery,” Bearden said.
Another topic of conversation at the DOE meeting dealt with the number of school system employees not funded by state dollars.
“In Fayette, because of local property tax receipts, we have always been able to employ many more people than we have allocated through the state’s (QBE) funding formula,” Bearden said. “With the continued decrease in our local tax digest, the state’s inability to fully fund QBE, and our continued decrease in enrollment, our number of employees must now more closely align with our allocations.”
Citing an example, Bearden said Coweta County has 31 fewer positions than they are allocated through QBE, Newton County has 137 fewer positons than allocated through QBE, but Fayette County has 152 more positions than allocated by QBE. Those positions in Fayette come at a cost of approximately $10 millon.
Yet another topic at the DOE meeting dealt outsourcing some services currently accomplished by classified school system employees such as custodians, food service, bus drivers and secretaries. Health insurance benefits for those employees are seeing large increases in cost that will continue for the next few years, Bearden said.
“(The) state benefits health plan for classified employees has increased dramatically. In fact, for this year the increase for our system is $1,800 per year, per employee,” Bearden said. “We will see another increase of $1,800 per year, per employee in FY 2014 and another increase of $1,800 per year, per employee in FY 2015. This is why some systems have already begun outsourcing and many are considering this option.”
Referencing the outsourcing of custodial staff on his list of potential cuts, Bearden said Deputy Superintendent Fred Oliver will be working with other area school systems on the possibility of generating a collaborative Request for Proposal for custodial services.
Bearden in his Aug. 17 letter to faculty and staff listed a number of previous cost-cutting suggestions that are being taken under advisement. They included:
“• Continue to maximize savings and efficiencies — We will monitor all vacancies and only fill those positions that are deemed critical to our mission. We will continue to be energy efficient and cost efficient with all purchases — last year we increased our fund balance over $7 million by implementing these initiatives.
“• Consider school closures and redistricting — each closed school saves approximately $800,000.
“• Outsource custodial services — anticipated savings is $1 million.
“• Continue to reduce/combine county office positions through attrition. Last year we reduced county office positions and saved $380,000.”
Bearden with this item noted that the school system currently spends $182 per student less than the state average on general administration. Citing an example, he said the school system is funded for six full-time assistant superintendent positions, but employs only one deputy superintendent and one assistant superintendent.
“• Continue to reduce staff in all other categories through attrition — cost savings is dependent upon the number of positions we reduce.”
Bearden said the school system currently employs 152 more positions than the state allocates, primarily teachers and counselors, adding that more than 200 certified staff positions have been reduced since FY 2007.
“• Reduce the number of assistant principals to be more in line with the state funding formula for these positions. We currently employ 14 more assistant principals than the state allocates — cost savings is $1.2 million.
“• Additional “shut down days” — each day saves approximately $700,000.
“• Elimination of all 1st grade paraprofessionals — cost savings is $1.2 million.
“• Consolidation of bus routes.” No figure was given for this item.
“• Reduce stipends for supplements.” No figure was given for this item.
“• Eliminate all middle school athletics — cost savings is $210,000.
“• Salary decrease for all employees. Every one percent reduction in salary will save $1,325,000.”
Bearden noted that employees who spoke at a board meeting in the spring of 2011 overwhelmingly preferred “shut down” days to percentage decreases in salary.
“• Consider a tuition policy that would allow students who live outside of Fayette County to attend our schools. This policy can be written to ensure specific guidelines for acceptance, and how a student could lose the privilege of attending our schools.
“• Consider asking our citizens, through a referendum, for an increase in the current millage rate.”
Bearden in this cost-cutting suggestion noted that Fayette County property owners currently pay less in property taxes than they did several years ago.