District has cut $3.4 million from budget so far
The Columbus Municipal School District is not planning to renew 59 certified teachers for the next school year. The affected teachers have less than two years of service in the district.
The teachers, who are contract employees, will remain employed for the remainder of this academic year.
The cuts were announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
The district has been struggling to find ways to make ends meet in the face of declining state funding, a shrinking tax base and a dwindling fund balance. The district has declared a shortfall for nine of the past 10 years, and last year had to raise its levy nearly three mills.
The cuts come from all areas of the K-12 program, but Interim Superintendent Martha Liddell said many came from Columbus High School.
Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon estimated that the affected teachers earned about $41,000 each.
“They had a salary of around $32,000, plus fringe benefits,” he said.
“The cuts will not take our student-teacher ratios above the state minimum requirements of 27:1 at the elementary level or 150:1 at the secondary level,” Liddell said. “We anticipate that we will hire back 20 or so of these teachers because our enrollment is growing and we must cover critical areas.”
Liddell estimated that 15-20 additional teachers will be lost due to attrition.
“We’ve already talked to our teachers that have more than 20 years in the system and asked them what their intent is,” she said. “A number of them have chosen to retire, and we’ll also lose some teachers who are moving out of the district.”
Liddell estimated that $3.4 million has been cut from the district’s budget so far.
“The bulk of that is through the reduction in force,” she said. “Our budget is 76% personnel. We’ve also cut athletics, administration, support services and some special programs.”
Two coaches are being eliminated, she said.
“We’re also reducing the coaching staff,” she said. “We have eight coaches now at the high school, and we’re looking at cutting it to six. We also had some hefty supplements, and we’re reducing those.
“For now, no sports have been eliminated,” she said.
Stipends are also being eliminated unless the employees work after school, she said.
Liddell said that the amount the district needs to cut is a moving target.
“It really depends on the amount of the state budget cuts,” she said.
Board President Glenn Lautzenhiser lamented the need to lay off teachers.
“This has been a very difficult process,” Lautzenhiser said. “We don’t want anyone to lose a job. We understand the difficulty associated with that. It is absolutely necessary that we get our expenditures in line with our revenue. Personnel is 76% of our budget, so if you’re going to make adjustments or cuts, you have no choice but to consider personnel. It’s been difficult.”
The district eventually requested an increase in their levy that amounted to 2.9 mills.
Along with the reductions in funding associated with the state’s budget woes, the district has also seen a drop in federal funds. The value of a mill has declined, most recently from $208,000 to $205,000, bringing in less ad valorem tax revenue. The district was attempting to meet some of these shortages with money from the general fund, but the general fund has dropped precipitously over the past several years: According to material provided by Business Manager Ken Hughes at the July 19 budget hearing, the fund balance has declined from an FY07 amount of $11.4 million to about $3.5 million at the end of FY11. In addition to counterbalancing losses from other funding sources, the general fund was tapped for one-time expenditures for additions to buildings – primarily adding fifth-grade classrooms to absorb students that would have gone to Hunt – and district debt obligations.
The district also spent $527,000 out of the general fund renovating Hunt Intermediate School. Then-Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips stated Hunt would be closed, due to its age and the high cost of maintaining it, once the new Columbus Middle School was built. “Those sites [Lee and Hunt] aren’t going to be any better able to meet our needs than they are now, they’re just going to be prettier,” Dr. Phillips told the board back in November 2007. The building is used for special education and the alternative school program, as well as housing historical relics from the school’s time as the black high school during segregation. CMSD Trustee Tommy Prude has recently suggested that the district move its central office there should the Brandon building be sold. But remember, the building can’t possibly be brought up to modern standards.
The elephant in the room here is, of course, the new middle school. The district took out over $20 million in bonds to fund construction, assuring the public that three mills would cover the cost. CMSD officials admitted at that July budget hearing that the district had been paying part of the bond debt out of the general fund, too, a process that now must come to an end. Funding for the middle school clearly has to come from somewhere. Now we’re beginning to see where. – Brian Jones] 0