School board budget committee presents strategies; list includes school closings, job cuts

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By Angye Morrison

Gadsden County School Board members met Tuesday night to hear from a committee formed to develop strategies to cut an already very slimmed down district budget. The budget has been cut $5 million during the past 18 months, and is facing an additional possible $6 million to $8 million in cuts in the coming months.

The committee was put together by district Superintendent Reginald James, and it has been meeting in recent weeks to develop a list of suggestions. The list is being taken into consideration by the superintendent, who is expected to make his recommendation to the board in April.

Board members will then consider and make their decision based on the superintendents recommendations.

At the start of the workshop, board members cautioned those present, reminding them that nothing the committee suggested is “set in stone.” The listed items are just for consideration, and no decisions have been made yet concerning any item.

“This is a process, and until the superintendent formalizes a recommendation, there will be no action. This is a discussion,” James said.

While he acknowledged that the decisions set before him are indeed difficult, James stressed that his foremost thought is the welfare of the county’s students.

“What’s in the best interest of the students is the one thing in my mind,” he said. “How it will impact our students, that’s how I’m going to look at it. I will make sure that whatever we do, it doesn’t negatively impact the quality of instruction.”

Regarding the process of coming up with budget cutting strategies, Bonnie Wood, assistant superintendent for business and finance, spoke on behalf of the committee.

“This is not a static process; it’s very dynamic,” she said, stressing that the list presented by the committee is ever-changing.

Items on the list were divided into several categories of issues: structural, program, contractual, staffing and compensation. The following is a list of those items with projected/potential savings.

Under structural issues, the following strategies were outlined, offering savings to the district’s general fund:

1) Change the district boundaries to increase the number of students at Havana Middle School; transport Havana Middle students to Shanks, eliminating all administrative and support positions, and move Havana Elementary to HMS (at a savings of $600,000); or combine Havana Elementary and Havana Middle schools at the HMS for a prekindergarten through eighth grade school.

2) Close Carter-Parramore Academy and return students to home school, shut down site and eliminate administrative and support positions (at a savings of $500,000).

3) Combine Gadsden Central Academy and Hope Academy (at a savings of $100,000).

4) Close Gadsden Elementary Magnet School and have students return to their home schools (savings of $400,000); or move GEMS to become a “school within a school” by moving it to St. John or Chattahoochee elementary schools, Havana Middle, Stewart Street or Gretna Elementary (savings of $240,000).

5) Rezone Chattahoochee Elementary to Greensboro and Gretna elementary schools, eliminating administrative and support positions at CES (savings of $500,000).

6) Rezone Gretna Elementary School to St. John, Chattahoochee and Greensboro, shut down site and eliminate administrative and support positions. Committee deemed this “not practical.”

7) Temporarily close Gadsden Technical Institute, eliminate administrative and support positions (savings of $1 million).

8) Go to a four day work week (savings of $100,000).

Program issues and the subsequent savings to the general fund:

1) Reduce salaries to 50/50 match from the Army for JROTC instructors and maximize class loads as electives (savings of $80,000).

2) Eliminate art and music from elementary schools (savings of $300,000).

3) Eliminate Americorps program subsidy, Title I to pay subsidy (savings of $80,000).

4) Eliminate general fund subsidy to middle school sports (savings of $2,000).

5) Temporarily use categorical state revenue for other reasons, i.e., reading plan, Safe Schools and instructional materials (savings of $500,000).

6) Eliminate adult basic education (savings of $250,000).

Contractual issues and the subsequent savings to the general fund:

1) Reduce contract with county health department for school health clinics (savings of $15,000).

2) Reduce contract with Barkley Security for security guards (savings of $100,000).

3) Reduce contract with Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office for deputy sheriffs (savings of $33,000).

4) Reduce contracts for grounds maintenance to require mowing of grass every two weeks (savings of $70,000).

5) Reduce copier maintenance contracts by reducing number of copiers (savings of $22,500).

Staffing issues and the subsequent savings to the general fund:

1) Maximize class size to constitutional standards (savings of $220,000).

2) Move reading coaches to reading teacher positions (savings of $220,000).

3) Remove all parent positions from general fund (savings of $50,000).

4) Remove all paraprofessional positions from general fund (savings of $400,000).

5) Reduce 15 percent of district-wide positions from general fund (savings of $300,000).

6) Adhere strictly to SACS staffing guidelines (savings of $100,000).

7) Reduce transportation expenditures by 15 percent by downsizing from 70 buses to 60 (savings of $500,000).

8) Close warehouse (savings of $120,000).

9) Remove behavior specialist positions from general fund (savings of $360,000).

Compensation issues and the subsequent savings to the general fund:

1) Reduce health insurance subsidy to retirees from $30 per month to $25 per month (savings of $10,000).

2) Suspend payment of annual sick leave payments (savings of $225,000).

3) Do not hire any employees on extended DROP (savings of $75,000).

4) Change length of contracts and adjust salary amounts in reassessment of staffing (savings of $50,000).

Wood described the budget situation to the board, saying, “We wear a size 14 dress, but by July 1, we have to fit into a size 8. We can’t cut off an arm, we can’t cut off a head. We have to slim down. Quickly.”

In order for that to happen, Wood said positions would have to be cut.

“The bulk of the general fund is salary and benefits. The cuts have to be people,” she said. “There is no way you can balance this budget without cutting jobs.”

Since the meeting was a workshop and since the purpose was to give the committee a forum to present suggestions and discuss strategies, no action was taken.

“Everything that’s in there (on the list) won’t get recommended. But there are some things I’ll be forced, based on financial condition, to recommend,” James said.

The public has been invited to share their ideas with board members and with the superintendent regarding cost-saving measures by calling the school board office at 627-9651. A second workshop has also been planned for this Thursday night at 6 p.m.