CDA trustees examine unconventional cost-savings measures

Facing an anticipated $4.6 million shortfall, Coeur d’Alene trustees are considering some drastic options to balance the district’s budget — including closing a school, selling the district office, and reducing kindergarten from a full to half-day offering.

“All of this is uncomfortable. We just want to be sure we’re looking under every nook and cranny,” said trustee Jimmy McAndrew, during a work session Friday.

No decisions have been made yet, and trustees are seeking continued input from the public at its upcoming April 29 meeting, even as they combed through pages of questions and comments from the community. Shrinking enrollment, reduced state funding and increased costs are driving the shortfall.

Trustee Allie Anderton posited the idea of generating additional funds by selling the district office building in Coeur d’Alene.

“If we’re looking at all these cuts, we’re going to have to get a little uncomfortable,” she said.

The district’s administrative staff would relocate to various schools and hold board meetings in auditoriums or gymnasiums, Anderton suggested.

But selling the building would not generate a large, multi-million-dollar windfall. Instead, it’s valued around $1.5 to $2 million. And relocating staff would require renovation expenses at the new locations for functional office space, said Shon Hocker, the district’s superintendent. 

“I think it’s really important for our community to understand that selling an asset is a one-time solution. It could address it for one year but next year you’re right back here having the same conversation,” Hocker said.

Trustees then asked if the district office staff of 58 employees is comparable to other districts. 

“I think what a lot of people see is we want to keep this as far away from our kids and the classroom as possible, and as far away from our teachers as possible. Wouldn’t it make sense to start at the top?” one trustee asked.

“All of our budget recommendations have done exactly that,” Hocker said.

CDA’s district staff is average to below average, but it’s “pretty skinny” considering the number of students and size of the organization, according to Eric Davis, director of human resources.

Hocker reminded trustees that two separate outside audits concluded that CDA’s central office is understaffed. There are 14 administrators working there: nine executive leaders, two department directors and three department coordinators. The list below provides further details:

Executive Leaders: directors of communication, operations, technology, human resources, finance; and two assistant superintendents, one deputy superintendent and one superintendent.

Department Directors: federal programs and special education.

Department Coordinators:  nursing, curriculum and mental health.

Additional suggestions include finding more savings by reducing curriculum expenses and moving from all-day kindergarten to half-day, with a tuition-based full-day option.

Cutting curriculum or kindergarten services will directly impact students, Hocker cautioned.

“I’m receiving a lot of communication. I’m considering everything,” said Lesli Bjerke, the board’s vice chairperson.

The conversation comes after Idaho Falls school trustees recently made $4.3 million in cuts, including more than 20 staff positions and funding for supplies, programs, and staff stipends.

Academic performance for four-day model is inconclusive

Trustees appear less inclined to adopt the four-day model because there isn’t enough evidence showing it improves academic performance.

“We know the cost savings but at what cost?” McAndrew asked.

“There are lots of folks who love it and lots that don’t,” Hocker said. “The community is split.”

But that split is not apparent on the board — trustees each expressed opposition or ambivalence to shortened weeks.

The research is inconclusive, said McAndrew. “I can’t tell you if student achievement is better or worse.”

“This one is a tough one. If we were to go to the four-day schedule, are we locked in forever?” Bjerke asked.

Smith said, “The academic achievement is so unclear. I’m not in a position right now to make that drastic of a shift for our students.”

However, the board suggested tweaking the current five-day calendar to include one Friday per month for professional development.

Borah Elementary remains top choice for closure

Among the district’s 11 elementary schools, Borah Elementary is most likely to be closed.

Trustees have not decided if they will close any schools. The discussion about Borah is preliminary, based on the district’s budget reduction recommendations.

Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities was considered as a candidate for closure, but passed over because it has a waiting list of over 100 students.

Bryan Elementary was also passed over because it can absorb about 100 more transfer students than Borah. If trustees decide to close a school, a couple hundred students will be displaced.

“If you weren’t going to use Borah, you would have to absorb kids somewhere and Bryan can absorb more kids,” a trustee said. 

The district anticipates moving 109 students to Bryan, 77 to Ramsey Magnet School of Science and 34 to Fernan STEM Academy — if the closure of Borah is approved.

“Regardless, we’re going to have some hearts broken,” McAndrew said.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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