With little left in the reserve tank and funding revenue down, trustees for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) had no choice in delivering a downsized budget for the next school year.
At the board meeting April 12, trustees passed the 2018-19 budget of $86.73 million which is down drastically from the nearly $91 million for the current school year. The result will be considerable cuts including fewer supports for students along with staff cuts.
“We knew this was coming,” explained WCPS superintendent Jayson Lovell.
“By not having the operational reserves to draw from and seeing student numbers decline the past two years, this budget is a significant course correction for the division.”
Lovell noted that the last couple of years adjustments were not made as the board chose to use operational reserves in an attempt to maintain services for students. That included this current year where a $1.44 million shortfall became evident back in December. So, rather than make substantial cuts that would disrupt the school year, the board used operational reserves to cover it.
“Unfortunately there are going to be some outstanding people that have done great work for us who will no longer be with us. That’s the most difficult part, losing some really good people,” he added.
Even with a projected increase of 70 students, WCPS revenue (not including operational reserves) will drop by more than $2 million for next year, leaving the division to cut $2.64 million in spending.
The major cuts will come from Inclusive Learning Services where around $1.41 million will be slashed, which will see the loss of several inclusion coaches (6.7 full time equivalent) and school social workers (9.67 FTE).
Division office operations are being reduced.
About $696,000 will be taken away from the division office, which will include $200,000 in learning supports for the Bright Futures Play Academy, $195,000 for inclusive learning services and literacy, $60,000 for school capital items and over $100,000 in staff conferences and department spending.
Where WCPS took another hit was on the increases in costs it can’t control, such as teacher salaries and utilities.
In 2018-19, the carbon levi on fuel will add $53,000 while utility costs are expected to rise by $148,000. Meanwhile, the overall amount for teacher salaries will jump $472,000 in what Lovell called grid drift.
“A huge hit is the average cost per teacher, since as we lose younger teachers the cost goes higher. That’s because the more experience a teacher gets, the higher they go up the salary grid,” he said.
“And with the loss of one-time funding used in the current year, it also means costs to retain people in other positions are also going higher.”
That includes slight raises to three facility maintenance and custodial staff as well as almost $46,000 to provide bus drivers with the same vacation pay rates as other employees.
“The board wants to be fair and balanced toward all employees. It also wants to remain competitive in order to hang onto the great people that work for WCPS and the board recognizes that comes at a cost,” Lovell added.
Even with the enormous job of finding places to save, WCPS will be maintaining its current level of teachers and educational assistants heading into the fall.
“As I stated, this budget represents a significant course correction and includes many adjustments and new realities,” he stated.
“This is the most challenging budget the division has faced in many years. We have talented, dedicated, amazing people in Wolf Creek. We will work through this together and you have our 100 percent commitment to do our very best to listen and respond as best we can. Strong and consistent communication will be key in the days and weeks ahead.”