GC School tries to find<br>$215,000 in budget cuts

GC VILLAGE — Teachers came up with a detailed proposal of cuts for the Grand Canyon School District. Now the school board would like to see the administration and maintenance departments do the same.

At a special budget work session on Tuesday of last week, 21 teachers and a half-dozen other interested community members squeezed into the school library to debate what cuts should be made to balance the budget and provide needed salary increases. Only one day earlier, teachers were told of a significant oversight from two years ago that increased the deficit.

A figure of $215,000 was announced as the target number to be cut from the budget if proposed raises for teachers and other staff were to materialize.

"It appears the figure that we need, to get to the place we discussed, is $215,000," school board president Chuck Wahler said, after looking over figures that had been crunched minutes earlier by financial officer Bonnie Haven. "At this point, I’ll ask administration to get back into a group and look at recommendations you made and these tonight (by teachers). Either come back with a balanced budget that reflects dropping this number, or if you can’t come to this number, what are the salary implications?"

During a special meeting on April 3, Wahler said he wanted to see ideas from all three areas come up with proposals for a cuts. A committee was formed and officials expressed the desire to work together on the problem. However, only the teachers had a detailed presentation ready for the board last week.

"I don’t like seeing separate things out there," teacher DeAnn Ross told the board. "I would like to see the administration and maintenance come up with some different proposals, also."

The school board appeared to agree with those comments. Board member Bess Foster said Andrew Aldaz knows the maintenance department better than anyone, which is the same for others who head up various departments.

Wahler said Foster’s comments were very applicable, adding that each department needs to sit down and come up with ideas. Then the groups could get together and find out what they can live with in terms of cuts. Wahler added, "I’m not betting that’s going to happen."

Wahler said comments made by Ross made a whole lot of sense.

"Something we all have to ask ourselves is to be open-minded about this," Ross said. "$215,000 is a lot of money. It means we can’t come in with a $5,000 proposal. We have to go out there and come up with the hard stuff."

School superintendent Ray Vernon originally suggested a meeting to go over the teachers’ proposal line by line. But after the teachers basically told him, "that’s our proposal, let’s see yours," he strayed away from that idea and said administration and maintenance would now be working to generate another list.

"I’m not trying to be difficult," he said. "I want to try to shift gears and work in this direction."

The teachers put together a computerized slide presentation to detail their ideas for cuts. The theme for the presentation was "keeping cuts away from kids" while maintaining the goals of increasing the base salary to $23,000, providing a 3.2-percent step increase and removing "101" money from the salary schedule.

"Cuts need to be made on items which do not directly affect the students," said Marcus Fuhrman, who was leading the presentation.

The biggest move proposed was moving $102,000 from unrestricted capital funds into the maintenance and operation budget. Haven told the board that once that money is moved, it can never be moved back into unrestricted capital.

"If we cannot move it back, I can’t see us moving anywhere near $100,000," Wahler said. "That means giving up all of our capital money forever."

Wahler showed deep concern over the questions surrounding that particular issue, adding "I need to be crystal clear on this. This is different information than before."

Haven told the board that the money will not be lost, it would just be a line item in M&O. Wahler asked Haven if further clarification could be provided.

The teachers had a list of various proposed cuts to "begin as far from students and the classroom as possible."

Among those ideas with the projected savings:

o Freeze administrative salaries, $9,000. The teachers’ proposal reports current salaries are within 9 percent of the national average while beginning teacher salaries are 23 percent below the national average.

o Reduce support services clerk from full-time to part-time, $9,000.

o Eliminate one crossing guard position, $2,000.

o Eliminate dean of students position, $39,000. The position would be reassigned as certified staff with records handled by other personnel and discipline handled by the principal. The teachers reported that the position does not exist in similiar-size schools.

o Reduce custodial positions by 45 percent, $31,000. Teachers reported that custodial tasks could be reduced by 50 percent.

o Downsize maintenance staff to reflect ratios of staffing in similiar-size districts, $20,000. The proposal pointed to Grand Canyon’s maintenance staff including the equivalent of 12 people, but Aldaz said those numbers were misleading.

o Downsize all supply budgets by one-third, $25,000. This would impact teachers, athletics, administration, maintenance, support services and transportation.

o Eliminate all scheduled overtime, $7,000. The proposal calls for replacing scheduled OT with flexible scheduling and split shifts. A comp time benefit could be used for emergency overtime.

o Utilize Esperanza Academy funds from the county, $5,000.

o Use funds from the Classroom Site Fund’s third bucket, $15,000.

"These suggestions, totaling $246,000 keep cuts away from the students in the classroom," Fuhrman said. "These suggestions are designed to entice good teachers to come, by raising the base salary, and to stay at Grand Canyon Schools."

The teachers’ proposal also suggested a review and revision of the district’s annual expenditure report to reflect "actual budget items." They contend that the current document is inaccurate, confusing and counterproductive. They also suggest the scheduling of an efficiency review for next fall before creating the 2003-04 budget.

"I suspect we can do better in other areas we haven’t had time and detail to bring to light," Fuhrman added.

The school board and teachers followed by debating several aspects of the proposal.

"It’s difficult to react to maintenance numbers," Wahler said. "Cutting our custodial staff has implications throughout maintenance operations."

In the end, the board set a goal of meeting this coming Tuesday to hear more proposals for cuts so decisions can be made. That would give administration and maintenance two weeks to come up with their plans.

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