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School district faces budget cuts, but negotiations go well with proposed funds

This graph demonstrates the costs of various parts of the budget that the Carbon School District will be living with in the coming school year. Note that instruction takes up the biggest part of the budget and that salaries for various groups are by far the largest piece of the pie in operating the local educational system.

Sun Advocate publisher

The Carbon School District has settled their negotiations with teachers for the coming school year, but the budget cuts coming from the state will impact everyone in the district, according to discussion at the school districts board meeting on June 17.

"We had good collaboration between the negotiating teams this year," said Darin Lancaster, the district's businesses administrator. "We were able to keep a lot of things for employees equivalent to last year by making some changes in other ways."

The district's negotiating team which included Lancaster, superintendent Patsy Bueno, board president Barry Deeter, board member Debbie Blackburn and principal (Wellington Elementary) Kelly Martinez worked with the CCEA representatives to come away with an agreement that the teachers felt pretty good about. However, in a year when many districts across the state are looking at some pretty hefty reductions in force and in some cases benefits and salaries, Carbon still had to take some bites out of what was available to employees.

"Many districts had to drop the level of insurance they had on employees to fund their steps and lanes," said Lancaster. "But we decided not to do that and we found some other places where we could take the money from to fulfill that. But we also will not raid next year's coffers to help this year."

Lancaster said that the insurance premium for the year is expected to rise 6.3 percent and that the district would also fund that increase. Cuts in various programs and other employee benefits will help to fill the gap.

The things that will change include:

•The elimination of an employee assistance program. In the past this program included counseling help for employees that was not provided by health insurance.

•Changes in the early retirement plan. The district will be moving away from providing 50 percent of salary and insurance for early retirees over the first six years of their retirement. Instead the district will only fund 25 percent. According to Lancaster this is a long term saving over the new few years rather than an immediate benefit.

•Teachers will still have a 182 day contract for the school year. The quality teaching days are now gone. There will also be no opening institute for all teachers at one of the secondary schools this year. Instead the district is looking at administration going out to each of the schools to do an initial welcome and institute. Quality teaching days (which used to be called Career Ladder day's) accounted for over $2,000 in expenditure per teacher last year.

•Also to cut costs classified employees and administrators will each take a two day, unpaid furlough sometime during the school year. This move will save the district $166,000 over the next year.

•While not included in the negotiations, another cut that will help balance the budget will come from not replacing some personnel who have left or are leaving by the end of the fiscal year. Next year there will be 12 less teachers district wide as well as 4.5 less full time classified and administrative personnel. With benefits the average teacher in Carbon School District makes between $65-70,000 per year, so the reduction of 12 positions will save the district over $700,000. As for the 4.5 furlough days each of those are worth about $40,000 each day.

The move not to hire teachers to replace those leaving will increase class sizes in the district. However, according to Lancaster, the district will still be below what the state considered average size last year.

"The state average for 2008 was 25.1 pupils per classroom," he said when he was interviewed in his office on Monday morning. "Carbon District's class size was 22.06 last year. This year, it will go up, but so will the rest of the state because they are all having the same problem we are and are cutting positions."

He also pointed out that state monies are where the problems with shortfalls primarily lie in the upcoming year.

The state revenues are the monies used to pay salaries in the district, while local property taxes, which have remained relatively stable, are used for capital expenses, purchases and other types of things.

Jim Thompson, CCEA president who headed up the negotiations for the teachers ,cautioned however that even with the cuts largely being from areas that are either long term or in areas that can be absorbed, that doesn't mean some instructors weren't hurt by the current economic impact on the districts ability to provide dollars to teachers.

"The public needs to know that because of the changes in some of the days that were in the contract before, some teachers are going to make $2000 less this year than last," he said.

What will happen in the 2010-11 school year still remains to be seen. If the economy doesn't improve tax revenues the district may have to look at other measures to control costs.

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