Schools cut budget, basic education and nursing programs hit hardest

MARYSVILLE — School district officials announced months ago that they would need to cut between $700,00 and $900,000 from their budget for the 2008-2009 school year.

Those cuts arrived Aug. 4, when the school board passed a $111 million general fund spending plan that includes reductions in basic education spending and slices the hours of school nurses.

The general fund is by far the biggest in the budget and, as the label implies, covers the day-to-day operating expenses of the district.

According to district finance officials, the basic education cuts do not mean any direct reductions in staffing. They do mean certain currently vacated positions, spots open due to retirements or general attrition will not be filled.

At the Aug. 4 board meeting, district Finance Director Jim Baker noted the general education cuts amount to only half of the reductions made in the same spending column last year.

At least at the most recent board meeting, cuts to the school nursing program attracted the most attention. The district won’t be losing any nurses, but will lose nursing hours. In any case, before the budget vote, Marysville’s nursing staff made it clear they are not happy with the reduction plan.

A registered nurse with the district, Julie Goble said the nursing staff had come up with an alternative plan, one she argued would have saved as many dollars as the administration scheme. She also felt that plan did get a fair hearing.

According to Baker, the alternative plan would not have worked because it forced other school employees to take on health care duties. He said that change is not possible due to contract stipulations in place with employee unions.

Though she ultimately voted in favor of the budget plan as presented by Baker, school board Vice-President Sherri Crenshaw lamented the fact the board never saw the alternative proposal put forth by the nursing staff.

Other cuts came in perhaps less noticeable areas. The new budget eliminates one position within the district print shop. The spending plan also eliminated a $100,000 equipment replacement fund. One area likely to get attention in the future is a plan to increase the fees paid by community groups for use of district athletic fields.

Baker believes the schools can raise approximately $100,000 in the coming school year by hiking those costs.

As one example, Baker talked about increasing the rental fee paid by Maryfest for use of the fields at Liberty Elementary School for their annual carnival.

The carnival is part of the city’s yearly Strawberry Festival.

Baker had proposed putting most of the facility increases in place in place for the next spring or summer, apparently when most contracts with the various groups using school spaces expire. Board member Michael Kundu said if increases are on the way that could benefit the district, he wants them to happen sooner than later.

While the district made cuts in some areas, officials also set aside $850,000 for new textbooks. In answering questions from the school board, Baker said the amount won’t cover all the new texts requested, but described the spending as a step in the right direction in terms of replacing outdated textbooks.

In another separate area, the district plans on purchasing four new, updated school buses, all with state funds.

As he has in the past, Baker lamented the fact the district should end the coming school year with a roughly $3.4 million balance. To be truly fiscally sound, Baker said for a district with a budget the size of Marysville’s, that number should be twice that amount. He said with that small a reserve, the district has very little wiggle room financially.

“We need to continue to be very, very careful about our spending,” Baker said.

While the overall cuts might not amount to a huge percentage of the system’s total budget, Baker has noted in the past that this is the fourth straight year officials have been forced to make cuts. He has predicted that unless there are changes in school funding formulas at the state level, more cuts may be needed in the future.

There is no chance that the district, even if officials wanted to, could approach Marysville voters for more local dollars. State law prevents the district from collecting any more local money than already is coming in.

Essentially, the district can’t collect more than 24 percent of its budget locally no matter what voters have approved. During the current tax year, the district could be collecting roughly $16.6 million based on voter-sanctioned levies. But with the 24 percent limit, collections will reach roughly $16 million, about $500,000 shy of the amount voters approved.

Baker has added the levy collections do not rise with property values, something he called a common misconception. Further, while district voters have approved, in the past few years, dollars for various construction projects, by law that money must go into those projects and cannot be used for operating expenses.

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