When it comes to trimming the fat from the budget, there is really none left to cut at Riverdale School District, according to District Administrator Bryce Bird.
“This is my 16th year as a school administrator,” Bird says. “I’ve made cuts every single year in two different districts. We have been cutting back and cutting back for years and we just can’t cut back any more without seriously hurting our kids.”
The district is already feeling the strain as they operate with a slim staff, while trying to offer strong programing.
But the district has an option to help keep the school afloat and adequately staffed on the April 4 ballot when voters will be asked to approve a referendum question that allows Riverdale School District to exceed the state-imposed revenue limit by $600,000 for five years.
Funds, if the referendum is passed, will be used for the district’s operating budget, the portion of the budget allocated to paying for staffing – teachers to bus drivers to janitors and everything in between – as well as all other operating costs such heating and other utilities.
Without it, the school district faces ongoing shortfalls in the operating budget for the foreseeable future, forcing the district to implement serious cuts to educational services, be it staff layoffs and/or educational programming, and forgoing needed purchases such as a new school bus – a purchase that has already been delayed to stretch the budget.
Riverdale School District was set for early pay off on the bonds used for recent facilities repairs and improvements under Act 32. The referendum essentially gives the school district permission to deviate from that early payoff plan and reallocate the difference – $600,000 – to the operating budget. That would allow the district to exceed the revenue limit without raising taxes.
The referendum will not completely cover the expected shortfalls in the operating budget, Bird notes. The schools will still need to find discretionary expenses to cut in order to operate without over-depleting the general fund balance, used to keep the school from having to borrow money (and pay interest) during the interims between state fund disbursements.
The degree to which the school district must still make cuts will be dependent on state action on per-pupil aids increases. Governor Scott Walker’s administration included an increase in per-pupil aid payments in the proposed budget. Calls within the legislature to begin at a base budget would remove them, and all other proposals, from the upcoming budget, requiring legislators then add it back.
Bird urges voters to head to the polls and make their will known. Given that this election is likely to be a lower turnout, a few voters could determine Riverdale’s course of action. Having the clearest view of the district’s will requires good turnout.
One way or the other, Riverdale School District will be tightening their belt. April 4 will determine how just how tightly they cinch school operations.