Superintendent offers budget options to board

COLUMBIA CITY — The Whitley County Consolidated School Corporation has tough decisions ahead of it, according to Superintendent Dr. Patricia O’Connor.“It was obvious that our expenditures were outpacing our revenues,” O’Connor said at Monday’s regular meeting of the corporation’s Board of School Trustees.She said the 2010 General Fund Budget took a hit of $1,085,488 due to the economy.“This reduction will not be restored,” she said.“In order for WCCS to operate within its means and maintain an adequate fund balance, additional budget cuts are required.”O’Connor presented the board with a number of options for bringing down the budget.She also said it was important for the board to decide what its cash balance, or amount in the general fund, should be.Since most, if not all, of those solutions involved unpopular topics such as teacher layoffs, O’Connor was quick to point out her presentation just involved “ideas at this point.”The superintendent said the corporation is experiencing an “erosion of its general fund balance,” with projected reductions to continue from the $1,569,189 in 2010, to $830,120 this year and — $243,227 in 2012.“The stimulus funds will be expended at the end of the 2010-2011 school year,” O’Connor said.“All stimulus positions will be eliminated, the district unemployment costs will increase and some positions may need to be supported by the general fund.”O’Connor said teacher raises have caused concerns while belt-tightening is at the top of the corporation’s priority list but added that gestures made by the teachers union have helped some.“The teachers’ contract provided for a two percent increase in 2008 and a two percent increase in 2009,” she said. “WCTA (Whitley County Teachers Association) agreed to forego the raise for 2010 and two teacher work days were also forfeited.”In 2009, the corporation had more than $2.3 million in its general fund. Projections have that amount going into the red by next year.O’Connor suggested the board aim for a general fund cash balance of $1,442,116, or the equivalent of two pay periods.In O’Connor’s proposed budget cuts, six teaching positions at Indian Springs Middle School would be eliminated.She also proposed eliminating two special education teachers in the district and one office assistant at the middle school.O’Connor also called for eliminating the Reading Recovery Program.“I would say, regretfully, we can’t afford it anymore,” she said.More proposed staff reductions include three guidance counselors district-wide, 12 primary school literacy assistants and two full-time and one part-time instructional assistants at the primary school.These cuts, coupled with increasing pre-school tuition fees and charging for full-time kindergarten for those who currently don’t pay, could reduce the corporation’s expenditures by about $515,044, according to O’Connor.The superintendent is quick to point out the corporation’s newest project, Eagle Tech, is a non-issue, budget-wise.“Eagle Tech hasn’t cost us a nickel at this point,” she said, touting grant dollars as being the driving fiscal force behind the rapidly developing project.