Nampa’s complicated, convoluted budget crisis

Simpson and Nampa board
Mandy Simpson of the Nampa Education Association addresses School Board members Tuesday night about possible cuts in teaching positions. The School Board voted to cut 15 secondary teaching jobs in non-core subjects, and 12 elementary school positions — cuts that could save the district roughly $1.35 million.

After a dramatic School Board meeting — punctuated by votes to cut 31.5 teaching and administrative jobs, and interim Superintendent Thomas Michaelson’s abrupt resignation — the Nampa School District’s budget picture is as murky as ever.

Here’s what is clear. After Tuesday’s meeting, the School Board has cut a little more than $3 million from the general fund. That isn’t enough to erase a $5.1 million deficit.

And what’s more, the district faces potential costs that will make it even tougher to balance the budget by June 18 — leaving a gap of more than $4 million.

Let’s look at some of the key variables.

Potential cuts/savings

Reworking the high school schedule. Potential savings: $1.5 million. Nampa’s three high schools operate on a block schedule, with four classes per day. Students take eight courses, with classes meeting every other day. Teachers have three classes a day and one prep period. If the schools went to an eight-period bell schedule, teachers would have a shorter prep period each day.

Reducing teacher prep time could allow the district to cut as many as 32 teaching positions, says Nampa Education Association president Mandy Simpson. The School Board is interested, and will appoint a committee to study the idea.

Cutting elementary teaching positions. Potential savings: About $875,000. The School Board did not vote on a plan to cut 17.65 elementary counseling and music and physical education jobs. Board members were uneasy with leaving the elementary schools with part-time staffing in these areas, and put the idea on hold to take a closer look at the high school schedule.

Furloughs. Potential savings: Variable. The district will begin negotiations with the teachers’ union Wednesday night. Mandatory furlough days may well be discussed. (The union has sued the district, saying its members were pressured to take voluntary furlough days in 2012-13.)

The fact that these three savings are personnel-related should come as no surprise. Salaries and benefits comprise 84 percent of Nampa’s general fund spending this school year, up from 82.2 percent in 2011-12.

Potential costs

Health insurance. Potential cost: Another $700,000. Here’s another big personnel expense. The district is projecting a 12 percent increase in insurance premiums. This also seems sure to come up in labor negotiations.

Contingency fund. Potential cost: $750,000. An auditor has said the district should carry a $3 million to $3.5 million reserve, Michaelson told the board Tuesday night. A $750,000 deposit would be a first step, but it is not a done deal.

On Tuesday, School Board member Dale Wheeler suggested the district could continue to do without a contingency fund, if this would keep music and p.e. teachers in the elementary schools. But there’s a risk; without a contingency fund, the district might have to borrow money again to cover day-to-day bills — just like it is doing this summer, using a $6.3 million line of credit to stay afloat for the next three months.

Other new expenses. Potential costs: $810,000. The district is expecting several assorted costs. For example, Nampa will have to hire in areas such as special education, to pick up the slack for federal budget cuts. The district is also looking at $160,000 in legal fees and interest costs, and a $100,000 increase in supply costs.

Potential revenue

Another supplemental levy. Potential revenue: Unknown. The idea didn’t come up during Tuesday night’s board meeting, even though it was on the agenda. But afterward, Board President Scott Kido said a third levy remains a possibility, and said the district could use the money to replenish the contingency fund. But Kido stopped short of calling for a levy, or predicting whether it would pass. Since August, voters have approved two property tax levies totaling $7.5 million.

An unknown benefactor. Potential revenue: Perhaps $4 million. Before resigning, Michaelson dropped another surprise. He said he had been talking to a potential donor, who may give the district upwards of $4 million over two years.

The would-be philanthropist’s identity is just one of the unknowns. It’s unclear how the money would be used.  The district is planning to announce more details Tuesday, spokeswoman Allison Westfall says.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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