Sheffield’s cuts needed to control deficit spending and to right-size the district

Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield’s budget plan is on target. In order to cut $50M from the district’s budget, whether it is accomplished in one or two years, the proposed budget cuts must be in the areas that have expenditures large enough to meet the reduction goals set by the 2012 Budget Committee.

Comments from the parents, students, teachers and many in the community are sure to rise to a crescendo, but cutting $50M from the district’s discretionary spending of $340M, requires that 1 dollar of every 7 dollars expended be cut from the budget, about 15%. Dr. Sheffeld’s plan makes the required cuts, while trying to maintain the educational system within a balanced budget.

Many will argue the merits of closing New Milford or Stiles or why is Haskell a zoned school, while all four strands of the Year-round program are being moved to Lewis-Lemon, or another location would be much better for the Gifted program than East. However, the bottom line is the district, after this years deficit spending of $27M, has a cash reserve of only 76 days.

The reserves may last through 2012 if spent at the current rate without the cuts. Then borrowing through Tax Anticipation Warrants (TAWs) will begin again. The district would have to borrow from the following year’s taxes and in that year having the payment removed by the county clerk and given to the bank, before it is even sent to the district. The district again paying interest of $1-2M a year that isn’t spent in the classroom.

Sheffield’s plan is what the district can afford with the revenue that exists today. Whether these cuts or other cuts are made, there must be $50M in cuts, unless the RSD205 taxpayers are willing to come up with $50M in additional taxes in this economy? Even if the state paid what they owe the district ($16.4M), it is only one-third of what is needed!

Many will debate whether the proposed cuts, the schools chosen to be closed or the restructuring of locations for the programs are correct. We can voice our opinions, but the bottom line is still the bottom line. We are spending money faster than revenue is coming in – that can’t continue.

The schools that are to be closed were not chosen because of their backgrounds or their history, or because of anecdotal evidence, or even the great memories from years past. Buildings were chosen to be closed that were only half full, could be efficiently consolidated with another, or required higher transportation costs, or that are 100 years old, requiring increased maintenance costs.

Lewis Lemon will be at full capacity and Haskell will be a zoned school for neighborhood kids, zero hour is eliminated and bus routes will be adjusted for more efficient operations, and some 280 positions will be eliminated, with class sizes maxed per contract language.

Millions in increased expenditures continue under collective bargaining contracts, with lanes and steps, health benefits at less than $90 per month for family coverage, with TRS pension payments being paid 100% by the district taxpayers.

Administrative staff benefits are also on the table, including health care, pensions, etc. Some non-state mandated programs are on the table, in addition to administrative staff, principals, non certified staff and paraprofessionals.

If the collective bargaining doesn’t result in concessions, the cuts on the system will be even more drastic. Is this good for education? No, but it’s what we can afford and the superintendent’s proposed changes right-sizes the district to more efficiently use resources.

More details in future posts.