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Alta will reduce budget by $350K; staff reductions will be necessary

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In a painful effort to protect the unspent balance or authorized budget, the Alta School Board approved approximately $351,000 in budget reductions for next school year at its meeting Monday. These reductions will come in staff reductions - from elementary to high school - and include classroom positions, coaching positions, a secretary's position and fine arts position. No names have been connected to the list of reductions at this time.

"There's no question that budget reductions are difficult," said Superintendent Dr. Fred Maharry in an effort to soothe the pain from the blow. "A lot of districts are dealing with this. As painful as they are, they are necessary to protect our unspent balance or authorized budget."

Dr. Maharry told the large group that gathered for the meeting Monday that without the reductions, the state department of education projected that the unspent balance would continue to spiral downward, even into the negative.

"We need to be disciplined. We all need to make sacrifices. This is personal and painful but we need to stick together as one big Alta team and be as cohesive as we can. We're all involved in this - our board, our staff, our parents. We need to look at the priorities and make sure they're funded."

He ended by saying the administrators are open to suggestions from anyone not agreeing with the areas that have been decided upon to make reductions.

The administrators will work together to decide which staff members will be affected and the board will make the final approval of job reductions.

"We will move on this as soon as possible," said Dr. Maharry, allowing those staff members being let go ample time to look for other jobs.

Even though the reductions will total around $351,000, with new expenses for next year (teacher negotiations are still in the process, insurance costs are seeing an increase as are energy costs and books and supplies and keeping up with technology) this would mean a net cut of about $200,000 for the district.

A member of the audience said it is a lot like what the federal government is doing right now - making cuts while granting spending increases.

Dr. Maharry explained that if all teachers and staff remained at the same pay and paid out of their own pockets the insurance increase, the cost savings could be more, but the district isn't going to ask that of their teachers and staff who work hard.

"The board doesn't want to take any deeper cuts than we have to until we have to," said board president Ila Galvin. "Our goal all along has been to maintain as much as we can."

The district will be saving about $80,000 next year by not replacing retiring elementary/middle school principal Maxine Lampe. The duties will be divided between Supt. Dr. Maharry (Pre-kindergarten through fourth grade) and high school principal Tom Ryherd (fifth grade through eighth grade). The school board approved a salary increase of $6,500 for each of the administrators for the additional responsibilities they are taking on. The salaries of the secretaries and classified staff will also be supplemented for doing additional work to make the new situation successful. Secretaries would receive up to an additional $2,857.50 and teachers would receive up to $2,283.50 for doing curriculum and school improvement work.

The total for the administrators, secretaries and staff increases will not total more than $20,000.

The proposed cuts and projected savings include:

* four coaching positions - $8,500

* one secretary position - $29,000

* 1.25 or 1.5 fine arts positions - $70,219

* one high school position - $48,665

* 1.6 elementary positions - $76,688

* one middle school position - $40,000

* elimination of benefits for associates and secretaries - $11,769

* reduce negotiation and legal fees - $6,000

* elementary principal - $80,000

* reduce newsletter mailing - $2,000 (newsletters will go out electronically to parents and be posted on the website. Some mailings will still occur.)

Board member Dave Turnquist tried to explain where some of the financial problems have developed. In the school year 2002, it cost $6,700 to educate each Alta student; in 20008, that figure is up to $9,700. The number of students has declined some each year, resulting in less state aid and expenses to operate the school continue to rise. "It's like a snowball," he said. With the funds being reduced, the unspent balance (which was at $2 million in 2002) had to be dipped into to pay expenses. Dollars from the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy fund (a special property tax levy approved by the board to be used for repair, maintenance, and renovation of all school district property and facilities, not for salaries) and the sales tax dollars have been used as much as possible to keep from reducing the general fund even more.

"It happens quick," Turnquist said, pointing out that "we are not the Lone Rangers in this." Rural districts as well as larger districts with gaining enrollments are seeing financial problems.

The district is also being faced with the huge dilemma of spending millions of dollars on making improvements at the 90-year-old high school or adding to the middle school to bring all students to one location.

A facilities assessment was recently completed by professionals and their recommendations came to nearly $4 million. The cost for an addition to the middle school is about the same cost. The Alta High School Facilities Committee - made up of community members, administrators and staff - recommends exploring the idea of the addition rather than making the improvements to the high school structure.

Also at their meeting Monday, the Alta School Board approved the budget of $7,070,261 for the fiscal year 2010. The levy rate would increase from $13.43 to $14.25.

It was pointed out that $100,000 in sales tax would be used to reduce property taxes and the district would request $400,000 for cash reserve and $125,000 for management (including property and health insurance.)

"The levy rate could be reduced to $13.96 by committing $150,000 to property taxes but the advantage of the higher levy rate is that it provides the district with more options to meet future needs," Superintendent Maharry said.

The budget hearing will be held April 13 at 6:30 p.m.



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