Idaho Falls patrons weigh in on budget cuts

More than 120 people crammed into a high school library Thursday to offer guidance to Idaho Falls School District officials who are preparing to cut up to $4 million from next year’s budget.

boland
George Boland

Following the legislative session, district officials told their parents and patrons that the cuts would be forthcoming because savings accounts are being depleted. The district anticipates receiving $5.7 million less from the state than it did in 2008-09. One-time funding sources, such as stimulus funds, are gone.

This year the Legislature increased the public school budget by 2.2 percent. But most of that money was specifically tied to unfreezing the salary table and one-year funding programs for merit pay and technology, which does not address district needs.

Over the past five years, the district cut $7 million. But Superintendent George Boland warned those who attended the budget workshops that the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

“Everything we have to reduce is a tradeoff  – there isn’t any service or any program that we are talking about now that isn’t valuable,” Boland said. “To keep this program means something else will have to go.”

School board chairman David Lent said officials scheduled the interactive workshop with residents ahead of the normal budget-setting meetings, because of the gravity of cuts.

IF budget hearing
Residents work in small groups to recommend budget cuts on Thursday night during the Idaho Falls School District budget workshop.

“This task that we are about to embark on is important not only because it affects students directly, but also because of the many families that are employees of the district,” Lent said.

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Following a finance overview presented by Boland, attendees broke into teams of about 10 people. Each team received a worksheet with a list of programs, costs, descriptions and the anticipated consequences of cuts.

The scenarios teams considered include:

  • Eliminating medical stipends of $1,500 for full-time employees, which would save $1.4 million and require employees to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for health care.
  • Discontinuing support for sports and extracurricular activities, which would save $252,404, and would require all sports to be self-supporting. This move could end some sports programs or exclude some students from participating.
  • Ending stipends for coaches and employees who oversee extracurricular activities. The move could save $318,033 but will require all coaches to be volunteers, which could hurt the district’s ability to retain quality coaches.
  • Reorganizing physical education classes for elementary students using only regular classroom teachers. Reforming P.E. could save $314,000, but would result in P.E. specialists losing their jobs and require classroom teachers to take on P.E. classes.
  • Restructuring required elementary music programs so classes are taught by classroom teachers, not certified music teachers. Making this change could save $261,681, but music paraprofessionals and some music teachers would lose their jobs.
  • Reducing all certified staff by one work day, saving $169,724. This cut would require 605 teachers and administrators to take a pay cut and give them one fewer day in the classroom.
  • Reducing all classified staff by one work day, saving $44,499. This would require 700 aides and clerical employees to take a pay cut and work one fewer day.
  • Cutting the elementary school custodial budget by 50 percent, yielding a savings of $40,000. Making this cut could require teachers or students to empty trash cans or perform chores.

Boland estimated the mix of people participating in the budget workshop was roughly 60 percent district employees and 40 percent public.

District officials did not take any action Thursday, but compiled team budget worksheets and recommendations to present to the school board.

Idaho Falls officials plan to stage three more identical budget workshops before presenting recommendations to the board on May 14:

  • 9 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday, April 27, Taylorview Middle School, 350 Castlerock.
  • 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 29, Idaho Falls Public Library, 457 W. Broadway.
  • 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, April 30, Compass Academy, 955 Garfield St.

Anyone who is unable to attend may request a budget worksheet or make suggestions through district public information officer Margaret Wimborne.

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