With a spouse of a board member, and three students in the audience, the Lancaster Community School District completed this school year’s annual meeting in only 20 minutes, which probably does not give justice to a budget that had to deal with cuts in aid and taxes of $548,042.30.
Overall, revenue for the district dropped $441,449 over last year, mostly due to $427,551.50 in lost state aid, nearly a 7 percent decrease over last year. The amount the district can levy was also reduced by $120,490.80 from lasts school year, to $3,906,286. This will mean a 36 cent decrease in the mil rate to $10.68 per $1,000 of taxable property.
District Administrator Rob Wagner said the record number of retirements helped save the district enough money to balance its budget, noting that the state’s changes to collective bargaining would still have left Lancaster short.
“What Gov. Walker did would not have been enough,” Wagner said, believing that the district would have been $250,000 short even after changes to insurance and retirement contributions. Wagner said that if not for the retirements, more than 17 in all, the district would have been cutting staff.
In order to deal with a budget deficit in excess of $3 billion, the governor and state legislature reduced funding for schools by $900 million over the two-year budget.
Funding for teaching staff declined $468,922 over what it was last year. Other staffing increased $262,346. Part of that is the fact that most of the 60 members of the support staff are entering the final year of a contract, which meant additional contributions for health insurance and retirement.
That left little wiggle room for the district to prepare for increases in electricity, fuel for buses, and sewer and water rates, all expected to rise in the coming year. One area the district could hold the line on is in the costs of heating the district’s buildings, as Wagner noted maintenance staff have figured out how to optimize the heating systems, keeping costs in-check.
The district saw aid partially reduced due to a slightly lower head count than in years past. There are 887 full-time equivalent students attending Lancaster this year, a drop of 29 from the previous year. Eight of those in the count were due to St. Clement’s offering four-year-old kindergarten. Those students typically go to Winskill for four-year-old kindergarten, then attend St. Clement’s for kindergarten.
When asked about where he thinks the district would be sitting for the 2012-2013 school year, Wagner remains optimistic. Wagner said that it has yet to be determined whether or not the district could see a $50 increase in per pupil spending next year.
Another thing the district will work on in the coming year is transitioning from contracts covering policies for staff, to drawing up policies that will need to cover everything from time off to disciplinary matters.
Last spring, the district extended a contract with the teachers, negating the need for some of the policies called for with the state budget, while still increasing the amounts teaching staff had to pay for their health insurance and retirement fund. The district’s support staff was already under contract, which meant they retained previous levels of what they had to pay for insurance and retirement.
Wagner said that the district will not be renewing similar contracts to those the staff currently have, and will begin efforts to draw up all of the policies required to replace those already written into the current contracts. Wagner said that the district’s personnel committee will be meeting with Attorney Eileen Brownlee within the next month or two to review how districts that did not have a new contract with staffs made the transition from policies agreed to through collective bargaining to ones overseen by an employee handbook.
“We will involve our support staff, and our teaching staff in this,” Wagner said, though who and when they would become part of the conversation have yet to be determined.
How much negotiating with staff has also yet to be determined. Under Act 10, passed by the legislature this past spring, which led to the large number of protests across the state, as well as picketing in downtown Lancaster, most of collective bargaining was stripped from workers, meaning there would be no more negotiating on issues like health insurance. Workers, provided they annually recertify their bargaining unions, would be able to negotiate wages up to the rate of inflation, which for 2011 will be roughly four percent.
The unions have until the start of next year to recertify within the district. The bar for recertifying is high, as at least 51 percent of all union members, and not just those who vote, will need to approve the measure to keep certification for one year. Those votes would have to be taken live during one day, as opposed to a mail-in ballot.
Wagner said that the district continues to move towards eliminating debt, a purpose that has driven him since he came to the district. Wagner noted that the district has had the mid-1990s high school addition project paid off for two years, which has meant one less item added to the levy, and the district also paid off the unfunded liability for the state retirement fund last year.
Wagner hopes the district can get to a point where it would not have to short-term borrow for operating expenses throughout the year. After the annual meeting, the district entered into an agreement with American Bank for borrowing for the current school year. The borrowing is done to cover expenses for the district during the year, as funds from the property tax levy, as well as two payments from state aid come at different times during the year. Wagner hoped that the district could reduce the amount it needs to borrow in future years, reducing costs paid for interest on those loans.