School budget hearing set for June 18

As the Rochester Board of Education prepares for a June 18 public hearing on its 2012-13 budget, the board is already looking to the following year as a potentially tougher one.

Though there will be $4.6 million in cuts, most of the reduction in the 2012-13 budget comes from outsourcing nonteaching jobs. The district will avoid further cuts by tapping into its savings. A net reduction of 6.6 teaching positions and one counselor will come through attrition.

Still, there are concerns. School board President Jennifer Berwick said she’d rather not take anything from the fund balance, since the future isn’t looking rosy.

“This is a deficit budget, and we cannot always be taking from our savings account,” she said. “Next year it’s going to be difficult. So we really need to do the work and make sure we’re confident in what we have to do.”

With an approximately $10 million projected shortfall, the board directed administration to balance the budget between reductions and use of the fund balance (savings). Administration submitted a recommendation that cuts $4.6 million and utilizes the same amount from the fund balance. If approved, and if current signals from Lansing hold true, the fund balance would drop to an estimated 13 percent of expenditures ($20 million) at the end of the next school year.

More than $9 million in cuts and revenue enhancements was on the table. Because an estimated $2.9 million will be saved by outsourcing custodial, transportation, parking lot attendants and other positions, the district doesn’t expect to cut deeply in other areas. The district will add full-day, every-day kindergarten as planned and will not increase the cost of participating in sports. Redistricting is off the table for now.

Trustee Jane Pierobon said she’s comfortable that the approach is balanced. “The impact on the kids, there won’t be any,” she said.

Berwick cautioned, though, that the changes will be felt. Counselors’ caseloads will grow, for example. And the transition in pupil transportation and custodial work will need to be monitored. “There will be bumps in the road,” she said.

The budget recommendation was based on the latest information coming from school-aid talks in Lansing, which the district has been monitoring closely. If the state school-aid budget ends up having a favorable impact on Rochester, Trustee Lisa Nowak said she doesn’t want to spend the extra money.

“If that creates a positive impact to our revenue situation, because we are in a deficit I would still go through with the recommendations,” she said. “Take whatever upside there is … and use that to bring down our deficit that much more.”

Expenditures that were not cut this year are likely to come back for further scrutiny in the next budget cycle. They include middle-school sports, the police liaison program, learning consultants, para-educators, the ACE alternative high school, deeper clerical cuts, continued participation in the International Academy and schools of choice, which could generate additional revenue.

“We need to have some discussion in earnest with the board with regard to these items that are not recommended at this time,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Daniel Romzek. “Are there areas it’s not worth spending the time on because there’s not the support?”

Both Romzek and Superintendent Frederick Clarke are new to the district this year. Trustee Gerald Moore said the administration is “guiding the board toward a fiscally conservative position” using a list of options started by the previous administration.

Until further discussion, “I don’t think we should have sacred cows,” Moore said. “I think everything should remain on the list.”

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