The second phase of Blair Community Schools' (BCS) cost reduction plan is complete, allowing the district to reach $1.4 million in total annual reductions, Supt. Randy Gilson told the Enterprise.
The reduction is 6 percent of the overall budget. When the projected 2019-20 property tax valuation is calculated, the wage expense of personnel and contracted personnel for the 2019-20 budget will be 78.5 percent.
“Overall, I'm real optimistic for the future,” Gilson said.
The reduction in expenses will give the district the flexibility to invest back into the district, including its transportation fleet, technology, curriculum and other needs.
“One of our biggest issues is that there is no way for us to increase revenue,” Gilson said.
The district has lost $183 million in personal property taxes since 2013 and the loss as a result of the adjusted property valuation has led to budget shortfalls.
BCS has faced a budget shortfall for the last two years and was projected to face another deficit next year. During the 2017-18 school year, the district had a budget deficit of nearly $800,000. A similar deficit was also budgeted for this school year.
Personnel remains the biggest cost for the district. Eighty-six percent of the district's general fund budget is salary and benefits. If nothing was done, that number was expected to reach 90 percent by 2022-23 school year.
“If we continue to monitor that and we can control it in a 78 to 82 percent rage, then we can line item annual expenses whether it be maintenance, investment in curriculum, investment in technology, investment in our transportation fleet,” Gilson said. “All of those things, to try to do that with only 10 percent of the budget, we were headed for a very dangerous area.”
BCS had nine certified staff members submit resignations — five were the result of the temporary early retirement incentive plan (TERIP).
“Between the nine positions, it gave us some flexibility,” Gilson said.
The district has seen a steady decline in enrollment since 2007-08 when the total enrollment was 2,384. BCS enrollment is down 100 this school year compared to last. The enrollment in 2018-19 is 2,195. In 2019-20, it is expected to be 2,156.
At the elementary level, the district reduced kindergarten from eight to seven sections and from seven to six section in first grade. Class sizes will be 22 and 24.5 students, respectively, for those grades.
Rather than cut staff, the district was able to move personnel into different positions. Those include:
• Middle school science: Jeff Kment will move from BHS.
• Middle school math: Matt Aschoff will move from BHS.
• Fourth grade: Rebecca Williams will move from first grade at Deerfield
• Fifth grade: Marla Ryan will move from PE at Otte Blair Middle School.
• Preschool: Krissy Anderson will move from kindergarten at North Primary School.
• High School language arts: Currently advertised and replaced
• School psychologist: Recently hired Jessica Cole.
The district will not replace a middle school Spanish teacher or a high school business teacher for at least a year. Gilson said those positions will be evaluated. Personal finances will instead be taught by social studies teachers and current business teacher Vicki Schrick.
“It's really hard to lose a veteran teacher like Mrs. (Pat) Olson,” Gilson said. “Our goal is to replace the position. We just want to have a good plan in how we go about that.”
Gilson noted there have been a lot of sacrifices.
“The people who have been willing to move it's just really been a team effort,” he said. “I can't thank our teachers and our principals enough.”
Phase one of the reduction plan, which produced nearly $1 million in savings, included closing the West Administration Building, the elimination for contracted maintenance, eliminating overtime, moving building and grounds staff into buildings for maintenance, eliminating some contracted education services, and replacing a contracted nurse with one from the district.
BCS also has not replaced eight classified positions due to attrition.
Phase one also including moving an elementary assistant principal/behavior specialist back into a classroom teaching position and replacing that position with a district administrator.
Gilson said the cost reduction plan could have taken place over two years. However, the ad hoc committee felt it was important to complete within this school year.
“It was important to that committee to take care of everything right away,” he said. “If we would have started to wait until next year, there could have possibly been (a reduction in force).”