USD 257 budget cuts proposed

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of USD 257 schools, told board members Monday night where cuts could be made to meet all but a smidgen of a $426,000 cut in state aid.
If the reductions were adopted, $500,000 held in reserve contingency fund would be untouched.
The most severe of the proposed cuts is $100,000 that had been earmarked for new textbooks. Others range from $250, for furniture and equipment in business offices, to $40,000 that had been set aside for in-service programs.
When numbers on the list, filling two pages, were taken together, cuts totaled $415,820, $10,180 shy of the state aid cut that occurred when Gov. Mark Parkinson dealt with the state revenue shortfall announced in the fall.
Neuenswander allowed the cuts likely would not play out exactly as he proposed. “Some might be more, some less,” he said. “I’m confident as the year goes along unexpected expenses will come up and there will be needs in items proposed for cuts.”
Keeping the contingency fund intact is important to give the district flexibility, Neuenswander said.
Before the state had to deal with flagging revenue, state aid payments were made to districts the first of each month. Then, the payments were broken in two, with a payment coming early in the month and the second later.
Now, the semi-monthly payments are lagging behind schedule, which puts emphasis on having cash in reserve to meet monthly obligations.
“We have to have sufficient cash in the bank when we write payroll checks the 20th of each month,” Neuenswander said.
The contingency fund ensures the monthly payroll.

THE LATEST state aid cut isn’t the first for the district and may not be the last.
Since September 2008 USD 257 has lost $1.1 million in state aid and because of an enrollment loss of about 100 students this year, the district will lose $267,000 in state aid in 1010-11 whether any further cuts to state funding are made. Also, the district will have to deal again next school year with the $426,000 cut made in the fall semester, just as it did this school year to deal with previous reductions.
Neuenswander mentioned several things that could be done, including an increase of the capital outlay fund levy from five to its legal limit of eight mills and additional cuts, including reducing days students are in class and staff.
“We made some staff cuts last year,” Neuenswander said, and that he will “come up with options in case we have to reduce staff next year.”
Payroll consumes about 77 percent of the district’s $13 million spending authority in general and local option budgets.
He did not propose any staff cuts for this year, to deal with the fall state aid reduction, because “there aren’t many places to cut staff at this point of the year.”
If staff cuts were made, they could be in assistant coaching positions, clerical staff, custodians and paraprofessionals, as well as certified teachers and administrators.
Reducing the number of days students spend in class might be false economy, Neuenswander said, because it could hurt delivery of instruction. Cuts mentioned were lopping five days from the schedule and increasing the length of remaining days by 22 minutes and going to a four-day week, which would mean adding 66 minutes to each school day.