Over the past two weeks, I have written about the budget development process as we begin our shift from the current year to next school year. I would like to return to that topic with some additional detail and comment.
In December, we started the process of putting together information and plans for the 2013-14 budget. There are many elements and parts to our budget development process and it takes us most of the spring. The process really begins with the School Board looking at an overview of the district and setting some broad parameters. These “assumptions” help to guide our process.
The assumptions include thoughts about district enrollment, application of policy, strategic initiatives, preliminary thoughts on negotiations expectations, legislative action, fund balance expectations, and many other issues. Critical elements focus on enrollment, negotiations and legislative elements.
Although there is potential for legislative support for schools, our assumption (at this point in time) is that we will not count on any increase in funding. Although this is a more conservative approach to the process, it is generally better not to expect increased state funding and later learn that it will happen than it is to count on the funding and then realize it won’t happen!
An important piece to consider is that we are still a district facing some measure of declining enrollment. Our drop in enrollment has slowed considerably but we still have less students from one year to the next. Much of this is due to graduating larger classes than those that come into the district. Enrollment is critical to consider because the vast majority of our funding is based on student enrollment.
After looking at all of the broad parameters and implications, the expectations of the board can be translated into financial terms—which becomes our “target figure” for budget adjustments. We have determined that there is a need to make reductions amounting to about $544,000.
The budget adjustments, and our financial history, are causing us to examine all parts of our operations and systems. To do so, we will consider ideas to either raise revenue or reduce expenditures. As with previous years, we will place many different ideas on the table for examination, consideration and discussion over the next several months.
MOST PRESSING ISSUE
A critical issue, at this stage of the process, is to make decisions regarding any reductions in the number of certified staff—generally meaning our teaching staff. The master agreement with the teacher association places an expectation that the exclusive representative (meaning the leadership of the teacher association) is to be informed about individuals affected by reductions before April 1. Because of this language, we have to act on this issue fairly early in the budget process.
Although we may add staff at any time, we are only able to make the reductions in teaching staff by April 1 so we must act on these issues fairly early in the process—even before we have complete information about the issues that affect the final budget.
PROCESS OF DECISION-MAKING
The process of reducing—or even adding—positions is guided by several factors. Certainly enrollment is a factor but other issues including student needs, relationship to instruction, state requirements, and other factors influence the process.
A critical element is the enrollment data. This plays out in at least two ways—general enrollment across the district and specific enrollment (or registration) for particular courses.
The first impact is directly affected by the issue of declining enrollment or the number of students who go to school in our district. As the number of students decline, less staff is required to conduct the same operation. As a general guide, a change of fifteen students should adjust instructional staff. The same would be true for an increase—if we grow by fifteen students, we should be looking at adding a position within the instructional staff.
Likewise, especially at the secondary level, student registration for courses has a significant impact as individual class enrollment can determine whether or not a class is offered. We have class size expectations, especially at the secondary level, that determine if enrollment is enough to offer the class. For the most part, a class needs at least 15 students to be conducted.
Another element in the process is the role of the position in relation to students and direct instruction. An example would include the Nurse assignment. Although the nurse is certainly engaged to assist students, the assignment is not directly within the classroom. We are required, as a district, to provide health services and to have a nurse position but the scope of time and other support is not specifically defined.
Student needs and requirements are also included in the decision-making process. Classes that are required, either by district expectations or by state requirements, will certainly be included more fully than are classes that are elective in nature. We still want students to have a well-rounded education and to have options available to them, but required courses will have a greater priority or higher role in the decision-making process.
Finally, the overall impact on student environment—the options available, the level of the course, the range of class size policy, and other factors—and providing a well-rounded educational opportunity is weighed.
Acting on position reductions is never an easy process. There is no question that every decision in this area has a “human impact.” Each assignment or portion of an assignment directly affects somebody working in the district. While some of the reductions may be “modified” by a retirement or someone who chooses to leave the district, most of the reductions mean that we have to inform someone that the position does not exist any longer and there is no longer a job available.
While we need to take this action at this time, there are things that can affect the status of any of these teachers and could allow us to recall some of the staff members. Additional retirements, leaves of absences, resignations, or reassignments can open up opportunities for us to call staff members back.
Again, we can only reduce positions prior to April 1; we can adjust or return staff at any time.
There is certainly a lot more to discuss and review about the budget development process. A large number of ideas and concepts are under consideration as we look at financial issues. One of the key things we must act on early in the process is reduction of certified or teaching positions.
While we go through the process of developing the budget and considering many different ideas, I also want to express that we, as a district, are open to ideas, suggestions, and thoughts about how to meet this financial challenge! Community residents, staff members, or anyone with thoughts about the budget development process may offer those ideas and considerations to us for inclusion in the discussions.
As I have noted, we will have budget discussions on-going through the remainder of the spring. I will continue to include descriptions and background on a number of those concepts. Various decisions need to be made a different junctures in the process, but we will have conversations throughout the next few months.