The Eden school administration says that it will be difficult to find an additional $500,000 to trim off a nearly $1 million budget shortfall projected for the 2013-14 school year without affecting programs.
“Right now, our budget is pared. There is no fat,” Superintendent Ronald R. Buggs said in an interview last week after announcing a 2012-13 revised budget that closes a $1.8 million gap, maintains all current programs and avoids teacher layoffs for the school year starting in the fall.
“We’ll put everything on the table,” Buggs said. He stressed that to shave $500,000 more would lead to budget pain in the following school year. He had suggested that the board may want to start with $250,000. The board insisted that it wanted an additional $500,000 in cuts.
“If we reduce the number of people, we reduce the number of programs. Programs would be affected,” Buggs said.
The board — concerned about significant budget deficits projected through 2015-16 — already is pushing for the administration to find the additional $500,000 to cut to help knock down the $925,095 budget hit anticipated for the following year.
For the new school year, the district plans to use $1.3 million in various reserve accounts, along with $500,000 in cuts from the proposed budget, to sew up the most immediate deficit. The largest driver in the cuts was renegotiating health insurance costs to save $156,000, resulting in an increase of 6 percent rather than nearly 10 percent. The district also pared $50,000 from its projected outlay for natural gas, which it buys in bulk through a consortium.
Buggs said he would have another list of potential future cuts for the April 2 budget session.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but it would be impacting 2014,” he said. “But one of the keys is, we don’t know where the state aid will be this year or next.”
Part of the mix is a declining enrollment. The junior class, with 150 students, is the largest, while kindergarten has 93. The incoming kindergarten class is projected at just 80. The decline in enrollment is now hitting the junior high level, with 118 students in the seventh grade.
Board President Steven P. Cerne urged taxpayers who attended the board meeting last week to help brainstorm budget-cutting ideas. “Don’t judge us. Don’t start rumors. Work with us,” he said.
For the upcoming year, the district’s ability to pull from reserves is essential to helping keep current programs and staff in place, Buggs said.
The recent approval of a three-year contract with the Eden Teachers Association also helped ease budget pain, though no exact monetary figure was immediately available on the savings. The School Board last week approved a three-year pact with the teachers union that calls for just step increases, with no additional pay raises for teaching staff. In the second year of the agreement, teachers agreed to a 50 percent reduction in their step.
For health insurance, the teachers now pay 10 percent. That would continue until the third year, when employees would pay 15 percent, beginning in July 2013.
The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2011, and runs through June 30, 2014. The board praised the union for its cooperation in a tight fiscal climate.