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EACS in talks about ways to reduce deficit

Staffing cuts may be likeliest option

– If East Allen County Schools hope to see a balanced budget next fiscal year, board members have important decisions to make about what to cut, the district’s business manager said Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Kirby Stahly, business manager, presented cutback options to help reduce the district’s shortfall. The worst-case scenario could leave the district with a $1.8 million deficit.

All school districts advertise higher budgets than they approve, Stahly said, but the bare-bone figures still require the board to cut approximately $939,070.

Last month, the board heard a presentation explaining that the district plans to budget more than $85 million in the coming year to support seven funds.

Enrollment declines in recent years have led to problems keeping up with building maintenance and bus replacement costs for the district, Stahly said.

“There’s so many things that are unknown with enrollment. We just don’t know where that number is going to be,” Stahly said.

On Tuesday, the board heard several options to help cut about $657,225, including small-ticket items like eliminating mailings and paper checks and larger-ticket items such as staffing cutbacks.

The board did not approve any cuts Tuesday, but plans to discuss changes at the next meeting.

Eliminating mailings and postage could save $2,100, and cutting paper checks and going to an online-only payroll system could save $3,800.

Board vice president Chris Baker said his concern is that the smaller-ticket items won’t create the sort of savings the district needs.

“Those are petty things,” Baker said. “ … We need to stop looking at those nickel-and-dime things.”

Although the cuts will be difficult, the district needs to look at personnel costs and staffing levels, Baker said.

Stahly said cutting six teaching positions at EACS could save the district $320,400.

Reducing the number of administrative interns could save $139,000.

Other options for reducing the district’s spending included cutting back vocational offerings, extra-curricular activities, outsourcing support services, professional development and travel costs, or using part of the district’s Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget.

The district needs to look carefully at the programs and rigor of classes being offered to students to determine what keeps students from leaving, Baker said.

“If we keep losing students every year, we’ll be back here again next year having this conversation again,” he said.

Board member Arden Hoffman asked the district’s human resources department to compile information gathered during exit interviews for staff and students to present at the next board meeting. Hoffman said he hopes by delving into that information the district can turn programs around to attract students.

Superintendent Ken Folks said based on the board’s discussion, it seemed the solution would be to cut employees.

Board members agreed that cutbacks need to be made, but hesitated when Folks proposed unspecified employee cuts.

“I don’t want teachers cut, I don’t want classrooms combined … I want it cut as far away from the students as possible when we cut,” Hoffman said.