School district takes look at budget issues

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(File photo by MARY MALONE) Lake Pend Oreille School District officials began held a short budget workshop during Tuesday board meeting.

PONDERAY — During the first board meeting since the passing of the Lake Pend Oreille School District's two-year, $17 million supplemental levy last month, district officials held a brief budget workshop Tuesday for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The workshop was limited to areas where the district could make cuts in next year's budget.

The budget process technically started six months ago when district officials and staff began discussions for the supplemental levy, said Lisa Hals, the district's chief financial and operations officer. At that time, she was required to project funding the district would receive on state and federal levels.

"Last fall we projected that we would probably have to cut about $600,000 out of our budget to balance our budget," Hals said.

The Trump administration recently released its budget for the fiscal year 2018, she said, which includes a decrease of $68 billion in K-12 public education funding next year — a 13-percent cut. In terms of cuts that would specifically affect LPOSD in the short term, she said, is the proposal to eliminate Title II program, which provides $205,000 annually to the district. This funding supports professional development for teachers, primarily on early-release Wednesdays, Hals said.

The federal budget cycle is not concurrent with LPOSD, she said. The district's budget cycle begins July 1, and the federal budget cycle begins October 1, so Hals said the district generally receives an estimate in late April of the amount of federal grants to be provided in the upcoming year. Due to the potential "enormity" of the changes in federal appropriations, Hals said, she believes the estimates might be pushed out this year to a later date.

On the state level, she said, Otter recently signed into law all of the K-12 appropriation bills for the 2018 year. None of the bills, she said, took into consideration federal appropriation reduction for public schools. The K-12 budget was approved at nearly $1.7 million next year, a 6.3-percent increase from the current budget.

Shawn Woodward, district superintendent, addressed possible cuts LPOSD could make in the coming year. 

The first item on the list was staff turnover at $180,000. Each year, he said, the district generates a reduction in staffing dollars through retirement. Staff at the top end of the salary schedule are replaced with staff at the lower end of the schedule. The number is difficult to predict, he said, but feels the $180,000 is a "pretty true" number.

Next, he said, the district can reallocate the $104,000 in K-3 literacy funds provided by the state. That money is provided to allow a "second shot" at literacy for the lower-end readers in those grades. The district has existing staff to support the level one and level two readers, so the funds could be used to offset some of the staffing cost already employed for that purpose.

He said reorganization of the district office could save up to $110,959, but he said there are "still some things to work out." Woodward said this would include reductions in administrative support in the area of curriculum, records and technology. It also includes a small reduction in cost by moving to paperless pay stubs.

The district can also cut about $49,000 out of the budget for contingency positions, which are typically paraprofessionals for class-size support. A reduced schedule for some staff Sandpoint High School will save $45,000 as well,Woodward said. Night school at Lake Pend Oreille High School can be cut because there is not enough interest in that program at this time, Woodward said, saving the district $30,000. Due to a nationwide reduction of teen parents, LPOHS is also seeing a reduction in teens who need child care, so that program can be cut as well, saving an additional $28,000. He said the district will continue to monitor that and if needed, the district can bring the child care program back in the future.

Some other areas where Woodward suggested cuts include half-time certificated staff reductions at Sandpoint Middle School and Southside Elementary School, saving $30,000 and $20,000 respectively, due to a projected decrease in enrollment. Finally, the district will receive a bus route consolidation savings of $19,000 next year, Woodward said.

In total, the savings listed by Woodward add up to $615,959.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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