Wolf at the door: School officials prepare for future budget cuts

Field trips, middle school sports and the gifted and talented program are three of 20 possible sacrificial lambs that might be offered up to the wolf that is the state budget shortfall.

The projected best-case scenario for the Douglas County School District is a 7-percent cut for the 2009-2010 fiscal cycle, roughly $3 million out of a $35 million budget.

The middle-case scenario is a 14-percent cut, $5.4 million, and the worst-case scenario is a 21-percent cut, $7.8 million.

A special school board meeting on Friday focused on recommendations for the best-case scenario.

"Additional meetings will be scheduled as we continue to address this very difficult issue," Superintendent Carol Lark wrote in a letter to parents. "Ultimately, it is your school board that will make the final decision when presented with administrative recommendations in February.

"The gravity of these cuts is unpredictable and dependent upon legislative action; therefore, we must plan ahead."

Eliminating field trips would only save the district $36,000, eliminating middle school sports (seventh and eighth grade) $75,000, and eliminating the gifted and talented program, $154,000.

The largest savings could come from cutting 14 certified positions, $910,000, or cutting transportation costs, $500,000, which would include moving half the Douglas bus fleet to the south end of the district.

Other possibilities considered were reducing staff and expenditures at the district office, $180,000, restructuring the custodial division, $216,000, and reducing the number of contract days for certificated, nonmanagement positions, $100,000.

In her letter, Lark, who was ecstatic about the recent passage of the school bond, made clear that proceeds from the bond cannot be used to shore up the operating budget.

"Bond funds can only be used for capital projects such as HVAC systems, leaking roofs, single pane windows, etc.," she said. "Bond funding cannot be used to help us with pending operational budget cuts."

The school district has been on a roller coaster ride since the state started cutting budgets last year, prompted by falling tax revenues.

In August, school board members cut $1.2 million from the current budget through attrition of full-time employees, leaving vacancies unfilled and combining positions, and by eliminating new text book purchases.

In September, they cut another $119,000 worth of professional services and bus routes, hiring specialists, such as speech therapists, only part time, and eliminating and consolidating some bus routes.


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