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RE-1 zeros in on final budget cuts

by Bill Knowles
GARDNER- During a sometimes contentious meeting at Gardner School, the RE-1 school board was able to settle on a possible $476,651 in cuts to the 2011-2012 budget.
At the start of the meeting, the board was considering a possible $493,682 in cuts. But as the voting began to determine which areas were to be cut, the nearly 50 teachers and staff present stiffened resistance to trimming any money from the area of teacher attrition and retirement.
Another area to yield a big savings is salaries for administrators. Under pressure from staff and some parents, the board voted 6-1, with Board President Erin Jerant voting no, to cut another administrator. Savings from that cut would amount to $90,867. That decision will leave only two administrators to cover three schools. It may cause a slight increase in transportation costs as one administrator travels back and forth between Walsenburg and Gardner. That amount has yet to be determined.
The three administrators to be considered for the cut are Principals George Purnell, Pat McDonald and Linda Bennett. When asked by Purnell which principal would be cut, Jerant replied that issue will be decided later.
Massive cuts amounting to $295,265 were also voted on. Out of the total, a $45,000 carry over from the 2010-2011 budget was noted. Other cuts would come from trimming the facilities manager, custodial maintenance, transportation, activities and extra duties. It was decided that 2.1 teachers are to be cut including a librarian along with a school secretary and an athletic director.
Transportation routes that the superintendent recommends be eliminated are the Highway 110, Lascar and Walsenburg-to-Gardner routes. The elimination of the routes will save $50,000.
Other areas that could yield savings and will be determined during negotiations between the board and the teachers include furlough days, a one percent salary cut for all employees, four secretarial areas, transportation to TSJC and junior high school athletic coaches.
High school sports were brought up and quickly kicked back under the table as discussion about sacred cows came up. Some argued that if academics and support staff were being cut, then the athletic programs should be considered for some cuts as well. Others argued that athletics were a part of the tradition of RE-1 and that some students would probably not be attending school if it were not for the athletic programs. The board delayed any discussion about trimming these programs until later.
Reasons stated for the massive budget cuts are a loss of $313,682 in district revenue and increases in utilities and fuel. An undisclosed amount will be lost because of cuts to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, Title One, and the Expelled and At-risk Student Services (EARSS) Grant Program. Such funding comes down from the federal level, and school districts are unsure of the amounts to be cut because the feds are still debating budget cuts in Washington DC.
The single biggest area of savings comes from attrition of staff, those who are not returning and whose positions will probably not be filled in the 2011-2012 school year. Staff who are requesting their first year of retirement are also contributing to savings. Those savings amounted to around $108,000. However the board voted to remove that item from the list of cuts.
Budget talks are still in progress and negotiations between staff and the board are scheduled for Saturday, May 14. On the table at negotiations is a one percent cut in pay for teachers and staff.