Blaine County schools cut 10.5 positions to balance budget

Leaders of the Blaine County School District cut 10.5 district-level positions this school year in an effort to stop draining the savings balance.

GwenCarol Holmes
Blaine Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes

Since 2011, the central Idaho school district has tapped into its savings balance in order to cover its expenses.

This year’s cuts, which affect positions from an International Baccalaureate coordinator to a technology expert to a custodian, result in a savings of nearly $925,000 from the district’s central offices budget.

The move also allows the district to hold onto its remaining savings balance and keep class sizes the same.

“What we heard from the community is they wanted the reductions to take place as far away from classroom as possible,” District spokeswoman Heather Crocker said. “Now we just need everyone (on staff) to do a little more so we can operate with 11 less people at the district level.”

Prior to adopting the budget this year, district leaders convened 19 public meetings at district schools and community organizations such as the Rotary Club, YMCA and the local hospital.

Meetings and follow-up surveys were also offered in Spanish, with one meeting devoted to Spanish-speakers attracting 90 district parents, Crocker said.

The district used the meetings to identify funding priorities and to get suggestions for a sustainable, five-year financial plan.

District leaders used that feedback to identify where to cut and where to continue investing in resources.

“We promised to balance revenues and expenditures and we did. We promised not to reduce positions that work directly with students and we kept that promise,” Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes wrote in a letter to patrons.

Blaine County’s general fund budget comes to $53.6 million for 2016-17, down by about $2 million from the previous year. Salaries and benefits are the district’s largest expense and account for almost 88 percent of general fund spending this year.

Moving forward, district leaders also want to bolster the savings balance they spent down (technically referred to as an “unassigned fund balance” in budgeting lingo). The balance currently sits at about 11 percent of the general fund. In April, the board of trustees voted to increase that to 18-20 percent of the general fund over the next three years.

“In general, the community seems supportive (of the new budget),” Crocker said. “When we speak to people, they are definitely pleased to hear about the commitment to develop a five-year financial plan.”

The positions cut include some reductions of full-time positions to half-time positions. The 10.5 affected positions include:

  • One position from the technology department.
  • One position from building and grounds.
  • One “floating” custodial position that was not assigned to a specific school building.
  • One position of assistant athletics director / summer groundskeeper.
  • One special education program parent liaison.
  • One Latino parent liaison position.
  • Nine-tenths of one full-time position as International Baccalaureate coordinator.
  • Six-tenths of a full-time position as a district dual language specialist.
  • Half-time positions in the superintendent’s office, finance office, student support office and a behavior interventionist.

Further reading: East Idaho reporter Devin Bodkin published a recent report about school district’s reserve balances on Sept. 8.