Editor’s note: This week, we start a three week question session with candidates for Union County Public Schools, beginning with District 6. All candidates who responded to the request have their answers printed, in their entirety. UCW only edits for grammar.
Q1:The big issue for the next school board will be how it handles the $30 million shortfall currently predicted, with minimal impact on teachers. From your perspective, what are some things the board needs to consider to address this issue?
Thats tough … they have already cut and combined positions. We need the curriculum coordinators to support the teachers, we need maintenance to keep the buildings running, they have already given up a lot.
They could look at reducing the amount of buses that we have on the roads. So many buses are only half full as they leave the schools. We need to cut the use of paper and rely more on technology. This would also reduce the copier cost.
I would also like to see what can be reduced from the altenative school and refocus their purpose. Is it more cost effective to eliminate the high school component and offer the CASP program at their home school? We need to focus on early drop out intervention in grades 5-9. We would be more successful at early intervention and should reduce the dropout rate down the road.
As representative of District 6 I would come in with an open mind and take a fresh approach to oversee finance and look at different ways of cutting costs. I would question all expenses and want to be conservative in spending. Keeping quality teachers in the classrooms is one of my top priorities.”
Marce Ramirez Savage
At a general level, a couple of initial points come to mind.
First, there will be cuts, probably fairly deep cuts. In his presentation to the Board on October 5, Superintendent Davis did not mince words. He fully anticipates cuts to the teaching staff. Anyone who implies that he or she can find new funding is not being realistic. There’s simply no more money to be had. The new Board of Education will face tough choices where all the alternatives are bad, and that reality must be faced with clear eyes.
Second, the funding cuts must be equitably distributed throughout the system. District 6 should not suffer disproportionate cuts because of the perceived wealth of the District, nor should the success of the District’s students be punished because “they can handle the cuts”. The state allocates funds based on student population; cuts should be allocated in the same manner.
Now as to specifics, the Board can start by evaluating spending policies. The Board should hold a work session specifically to conduct intensive analysis of every spending category. The Board needs to reach a consensus on prioritization of spending. The finance officer should address in detail all expense categories and whether there are any legal restrictions on how allocated funds may be used. Money is fungible; if it can be moved from non-instructional uses to instructional uses, it should be done.
The Board also can direct the administration to look for more independent contractor or outsourcing opportunities at the staff level. This will lessen the cost of payroll taxes, retirement, and benefit plan contributions for non-teaching personnel.
The Board also must look at the policies in regards to contract approval. Currently, the superintendent can enter into contracts of $100,000 or less without prior Board approval. Similarly, principals can enter into contracts of $10,000 or less without prior Board approval. These limits may need to be lowered to a level consistent with fiscal prudence in this environment.
Some cherished technology initiatives may need to be postponed or cancelled outright. Is the $3.78 million planned for the 1-1 Laptop Initiative better spent on keeping teachers (assuming the 1-1 funds aren’t legally restricted)? If a choice has to be made, I’d rather give our students quality teachers, instead of a laptop which will be obsolete in 3 years (if not sooner).
The Board may need to revisit the Capital Plan and postpone some expenditures. Can the proposed purchase of 50 DVR recorders for the bus fleet be postponed? Are the immediate savings from a GPS system for the buses enough to justify the cost in this environment? Can some planned maintenance be deferred without compromising safety or incurring damage?
Again, there are only hard choices facing us. The Board needs independent members who will face the reality of the current environment and will fight for their constituents.