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School District Closes Budget Gap

Parcel taxes, teacher concessions, and staff reductions are all part of the solution.

Piedmont's school district seems to have figured out how to close what was projected in September to be a $5 million gap through 2013 with a combination of revenue improvements and spending cuts.

The $5 million shortfall was officially to $3.9 million in December after the district got news that a one-time infusion of $475,000 would be coming through the federal stimulus program and that $625,000 more had been designated for Piedmont schools in the newly passed state budget.

In February, the school board for increasing the district parcel tax by the full five percent allowed as recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee. That move, which the board is slated to vote on officially in April, is expected to generate another $815,000 over the next two years.

Wednesday the board voted unanimously to approve the union bargaining contract that teachers had ratified 128 to 16. For the first time, the contract puts a cap on health and benefits that is projected to save the district $275,000 in 2011-2012 and $550,000 in 2012-2013. Teachers also agreed to continue taking five furlough days each year in lieu of what would have been two instructional days, two professional development days, and one workday–that concession is worth $350,000 annually. A freeze of the stipends for co-curricular duties should save $40,000 a year. In total the givebacks are projected to save the district $1.6 million over the next two years.

If the other employee groups representing classified employees and administrators follow suit–as they have historically done–and agree to the same concessions in their negotiations, the district will save another $575,000 through 2013.

The board also voted Wednesday to cut the equivalent of 4.4 full-time certificated staffers (i.e. teachers, counselors, librarians, and educational specialists), which will save $300,000 to $500,000 in 2011-2012 and, since the cuts will be permanent, those savings will carry over into 2012-2013.

All told, the added state and federal funds, increased parcel tax collections, employee concessions, and staff cuts add up to about $4.9 million. 

However, even with all the positive adjustments, the district is still projected to be spending more than it takes in in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, leaving less than $300,000 to carry over to 2013-2014. And the emergency parcel tax measure that was established in 2009 to offset the shortfall in state funding expires next year, so if the district doesn't come up with another million in adjustments for to make up for that in 2012-2013 it will quickly fall into the red again. If the promised state funding doesn't hold up, the district may have to make up even more.

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