Print Page

School budget not status quo, but not bad

Sun Advocate publisher

For Darin Lancaster, the business administrator for Carbon School District, the overall budget of $37 million for the operation of the district during the 2010-2011 school years is very similar to last year, with the exception of a few more wrinkles placed there by an economic downturn that has affected state funding.

For district superintendent George Park, it is entirely new, because he was just recently handed the reins of the district from retiring superintendent Patsy Bueno.

But for both, the satisfaction of the financial situation comes in the form of stability.

"Looking in as an outsider at this point this district has been financially well managed over the years," said Park during an interview in his office on Tuesday morning.

To that point, the Carbon Board of Education approved the budget for the upcoming school year on June 15 and now it is up to that administration to implement it.

Lancaster, who was seated near by during the interview, explained while things look similar to last year, there are some changes.

"We are getting no stimulus funds in the 2010-11 school year," he said. "That money was only for the last school year. They told us not to do anything with it that would have on-going consequences, and we didn't."

That soft money, coming directly to the states from Congress to stimulate the economy is still a point of national debate; some say it should have never been authorized. But it was and now it is pretty much gone. So school districts will have to face this coming fiscal year without its benefits.

"Our regular district funding comes largely from local and state revenues," said Lancaster, noting that 46 percent of the budget comes from local revenue sources. "The state also funds 41 percent."

The federal government regularly contribute about 13 percent each year.

Like other school districts throughout Utah, Carbon has experienced significant reductions from the state. Lancaster said that while the weighted pupil unit money that comes from the state (based on the number of students and attendance) will remain the same as last year, other monies have been reduced.

"Those cuts amount to about 2 percent of those monies reduced across the state," he said. "However based on what Carbon District is getting in those funds we will be facing a 3.4 percent cut."

The money is being watered down across the state because the legislature gave no growth money to supplement the funds while the number of students in the state will increase by an estimated 11,000. Carbon itself will face a small growth this year, but it is affected because of the statewide method of divvying up the money.

"We actually are taking a bigger hit than most other districts in the state," added Park.

To mitigate this decrease, the district did take some action, but none of it will directly affect classrooms this coming year.

"We didn't do any kind of layoff or salary cut for anyone, but what we did do is cut back some positions in the district office by attrition," stated Park. "We will now be running meaner and leaner."

For one, Robert Cox, who has been functioning as the human resources director will be taking on the retired Pat Frandsen's duties in the special education area. He will still also work with human resource issues as well, along with a committee of others to fulfill that function.

Foster Lott is also moving over from the technology department to fill a spot in administration (student services) and Scott McKnight will take over Lott's duties which will put him in a position of dealing with both the software and the hardware used in the district.

With those reductions in force by attrition five and a half administrative positions have been eliminated in the past three years.

There is a possibility of the state getting a grant for Race to the Top money this year, and Carbon could benefit from that.

"We would probably get about $1 million if that happens," said Park. "That money is, however, what they call radioactive. That means we will have to trace where every penny goes and it can only be spent on certain programs."

School finance is a complicated system that only allows school districts to spend money from certain accounts on designated items or services. Often when teachers salaries and other areas are lacking there is money for other things in the district, but not for that. Administrators hands are often tied by the rules they must follow.

Park said the district has done a very good job in its projects concerning literacy and still needs improvement in math and science, although there have been signs that the programs are improving the learning students are doing in that area. Now the government, through some programs wants schools to improve social studies learning experiences as well.

Negotiations, that are now completed with employee groups will have some effect on the budget this year too, according to Lancaster.

"We didn't reduce salaries, in fact we are going to put back one of the quality learning days that teachers had before last year," said Lancaster referring to the number of the days teachers lost (8-10 depending on the position) off their contracts during the 2009-10 school year from the year before.

Park added that adding that day back in will not only increase teachers salaries slightly, but will also benefit the district with increased training opportunities, something he says the lack of which hurt the district by its elimination last year.

As with every business and organization the cost of health care insurance is also going up. Park said the increase in premiums amounts to about 6 percent this coming year, and to keep it that low the district has a plan that will increase deductibles and co-pays for employees.

"We are not passing along the increased premiums to employees in what they pay monthly, however," pointed out Park.

Lancaster also said that the state retirement system is increasing its payments as well.

"It will go up 2.1 percent this year," he said. "That brings the total to 16.32 percent for each employee on the system."

Carbon School District also has several aging buildings that require a great deal of maintenance and are in need of costly renovations. Park said he will be working with school board members to establish a long-term plan for future capital projects.

"We have been not looking into the future as far as I would like us to, maybe three or four years," he said. "We need something more like a 15 year plan to be sure the facilities are adequate for our needs."

This summer the district is doing a number of capital projects including reconstruction of Carbon High's parking lot, expansion of Bruin Point Elementary School, installing a new heating system at Sally Mauro Elementary and reroofing Castle Heights Elementary.

Print Page