Source: Sherman Publications

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‘It needs to be alarming...’
Brandon Schools braces for $2 million plus deficit

by Susan Bromley

December 21, 2011

Brandon Twp.- If every employee in the school district took a 10 percent paycut for the 2012-2013 school year, the district could save $2 million.

And it still would not be enough to cover the deficit the district is facing.

During the Dec. 19 school board meeting, Executive Director of Fiscal Affairs Steve Lenar said the district is looking at a 2012-2013 operating deficit between $2,049,142 to $2,718,542.

Due to the gloomy general fund forecast, the finance committee had a brainstorming session in which they came up with, by their own admission, some shocking proposals.

"Some of the suggestions are borderline ridiculous, but... we are truly brainstorming," said Lenar. "We are trying to get the effect of what this could look like to get our community and parents involved in the process of contacting legislators."

The brainstorming ideas included the 10 percent paycut for all employees, as well as an insurance carrier change that would save the district an estimated $300,000-$400,000; elimination of all athletics, $425,000; stop buying all supplies, $900,000; close a building, $300,000; contract out services, $200,000; make band a club activity, $200,000; and close the pool, $75,000.

"It needs to be alarming," said Board Vice-President Kevin McClellan. "It's a factual situation and we are going to need ideas and solutions... The time to get upset is now, not in May. A crisis situation is coming our way. There's a light out there, and it's a train that's going to hit us."

The district's budget has suffered in recent years as the economy has tanked and the fund balance has been cut in half from about $4 million (13 percent) in 2007 to a fund balance that is expected to be about $2,040,965 (6.66 percent) next July. Roughly 80-85 percent of the district's budget is comprised of salary and benefits. Lenar noted it would be very unlikely that unions would accept a 10 percent wage cut while there is still a fund balance, even a meager one.

"(Wage cuts) are difficult to attain when you have a fund balance," he said. "The general idea is spend (the fund balance) first."

"So if we spend the fund balance and a boiler blows, we have to take out a loan to fix it?" asked Board Secretary Debbie Brady.

Lenar said that is what the district would have to do should the fund balance be eliminated. The board agreed that some of the other brainstorming ideas would be counterproductive— for example, cutting athletics or band would cause students to leave Brandon for other districts that still offer those programs.

Trustee Debbie Schummer said she is frustrated and shocked with where the fund balance is considering where it was just a few years ago and expressed that she would like to see a bigger focus on increasing revenue. Lenar said one way to increase enrollment would be to offer more online courses instead of classes in front of a traditional teacher, but it would not be a simple process.

Total expenditures of $30,956,299 are expected for next school year, while revenue is expected to be $28,237,757. The district will lose the EduJobs Grant, one-time federal stimulus money that totalled $756,743. Additionally, Lenar is not counting on a continuation of "Best Practices" revenue from which the district received $669,400 this year for meeting state-set goals.

Lenar said the district wants back the $470 per-pupil the state took away this year with reductions to the foundation grant.

"If we had that money, we wouldn't be dealing with this," he said. "We are only asking that they give us the funding we had in the previous year. We are encouraging parents to contact their legislators about having adequate school funding. We don't want more money, just to be back to where we were."