School District keeps eyes on state with pay a priority
School administrators and district staff have wish lists for new positions, and pay increases.
Now the school board has to decide which ones to pay for and where to get the money.
The board will get to work on the budget for the 2023 fiscal year at a work session May 17.
“We have to take a look at what are our priorities and what are the things that will help us achieve our goals most effectively,” Superintendent Keith Price said.
“Unfortunately, you have to come up with a priority list.”
“Obviously, there are going to be some things that we really make sure get funded. I think it comes down to priorities,” said Board Member Lynne Ford, who represents District 6. “That’s where looking at the strategic plan comes into play as well. What are our goals and how do these budget requests line up with the goals that we have moving forward for academic excellence.”
By the time of the work session, the district should know how much funding it will be getting from the state. The House and Senate are working on their own plans, but a compromise will need to be reached before the legislature adjourns next week.
“We’re kind of in limbo right now, and it makes it very challenging to create a budget,” Price said. “To me, the most challenging thing is, our board has already established that their top priority is employee salaries. You have one [House] version that says one thing and another [Senate] version that says another and we’re still unsure of any new funding that’s coming to us and what amount that may be.”
Board Member Mike Cafaro, who holds one of the at-large seats on the board, said state funding is the big question.
“The legislature, they’ve been talking about all this money they have and how they’re going to finally fund education,” Cafaro said. “The per pupil allotment is finally going to increase considerably. I’ll wait and see. That’s going to guide the budget for us.”
A decline in enrollment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic will also affect how much funding the district gets.
Cafaro is not in favor of raising taxes to generate more revenue.
After listening to presentations from administrators and district staff, Ford said she wished the board could fund everything. But it can’t.
“The critical needs for me are, what touches the kids most,” she said. “How are we going to continue to bridge the learning gap, how are we going to get the scores up.”
The district has been funding 62 positions with money from the federal government for COVID-19 relief.
That money – from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund – runs out in 2024.
“We’ve got some things that we’ve got some flexibility with our ESSER money,” Price said. “But other things are going to be part of our operating budget. So we’ve got to figure out how to do that and how to sustain it.”
Among the positions the ESSER money is funding are 19 interventionists, 12 classroom teachers, five Rehabilitative Behavioral Health Services counselors, four College and Career Readiness coaches, four reading or curriculum coaches and three custodians. Some of those positions will be transitioned back in regular funding.
Ford said the board can’t wait until it works on the fiscal 2025 budget to make decisions on things funded by ESSER money.
“There may be some things that have to go by the wayside, but there are also some things that the pandemic has shown us we really need and we have to figure out a way to fund,” she added.
Both Cafaro and Kathy Anderson, who was sworn in this week as the other at-large board member, are concerned about the number of retirees who continue to work for the district in non-teaching positions.
“Where do we draw that line?” Anderson said. “We can’t get rid of our teachers, but maybe there’s a district person that maybe we don’t need to pay all that salary. But, then again, maybe that person might be in a critical position.”
“I have no problem – especially with a teacher shortage – about letting them work, letting them continue, provided that the principal wants them back, because they’re making a positive contribution to the school,” Cafaro said, adding that he’d like an explanation of the process of deciding which retirees can return.
“Why should this person stay and this one go?,” he said. “Who’s making these choices?”
A personnel list approved by the board this week shows that there are currently 35 retirees working at the district and school levels.