Idaho Falls seeks help in cutting $4 million

Idaho Falls School District 91 officials are turning to the public to help them implement up to $4 million in cuts to the 2013-14 budget.

On Wednesday, district officials announced a series of four public budget workshops this month, intended to spark suggestions and weigh strategies for cutting $3.5 million to $4 million.

The Idaho Falls School District is the fifth largest in Idaho, serving about 10,400 students.

Although the Legislature approved a 2.2 percent increase in Idaho’s public schools budget this year, Idaho Falls officials said they expect to receive at least $5.7 million less from the state for salaries and benefits than they did in 2008-09.

Salaries and benefits are the district’s largest expenses, accounting for about 67 percent of spending within the general maintenance and operations fund.

The planned cuts translate to about 7 percent of this year’s general fund expenses, said Carrie Smith, the district’s director of human resources and finance.

The proposed reductions include $1.5 million in cuts primarily affecting the district office and maintenance and operations but the district is seeking guidance on how to handle the rest.

Spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne said district officials decided to take a new approach to the upcoming public workshops, because cuts will be significant. She said the events’ format will move beyond simple PowerPoint and spreadsheet presentations. Instead, district leaders envision residents working in small groups alongside officials to consider strategies and implications.

“We’re really looking at trying to get patrons involved in the process and provide feedback and input on these challenging decisions because every cut we make will have some kind of impact,” Wimborne said.

The times, dates and locations of the upcoming meetings are:

  • 5 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 25, Skyline High School media center, 1767 Blue Sky Drive.
  • 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.

In recent years, the district battled budget woes through a combination of cutting expenses, leaving positions vacant, spending one-time money and dipping into savings reserves, Smith and Wimborne said. Meanwhile, expenses such as insurance have continued to increase.

District officials said this year’s 2.2 percent school budget increase does not alleviate the district’s financial woes, because much of the increase was tied to specific things such as professional development or merit-pay bonuses.

For 2008-09, the district received $25,696 per support unit – a term lawmakers often liken to a classroom. This year, the district will receive $20,000 per unit.

boland
Superintendent George Boland

“So, if we look at that, we’re getting $3 million less per unit in discretionary (spending), but we’re expected to serve the same number of students,” Smith said.

The cuts became evident as lawmakers crafted the 2013-14 budget. In an interview with Idaho Education News earlier this year, Superintendent George Boland predicted the district would be looking to make millions in cuts. This week, he urged residents and parents to help district officials.

“This will be a difficult process, and we will need community support as the board makes the difficult decisions necessary to create a budget that reflects today’s financial realities,” Boland said in a statement released by the district.

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