LAND O'LAKES — Teachers will likely have to take only two furlough days during the coming school year instead of the four they originally expected, thanks to a $900,000 windfall the school district received from various sources.
"It's $900 million," chief finance officer Olga Swinson said at a School Board meeting Tuesday before she realized her error and corrected it. "I wish it were $900 million."
The money came because of various circumstances. The county's tax collection rate was slightly higher than what officials had budgeted for. Also the district got more in state money because property tax revenues fell more than expected. Plus, administrators stretched their dollars by postponing filling some jobs and paid out less than expected for sick and vacation time.
The result is a balanced budget, which will come up for a hearing at the School Board meeting set for next Tuesday. A final vote is set for Sept. 18. The furloughs have to be negotiated from the teachers union. If that's not part of the picture, officials will have to find $3.3 million elsewhere.
That was the good news. The bad came moments later, when Swinson talked about future projections. The 2012-13 budget hole was plugged with help from $16 million the district won't have next year. State lawmakers had allowed school districts to use building money to pay for property insurance and use textbook funds for other purposes, but only for one year.
"I do want to warn the board that all we're doing is digging a bigger hole," she said.
Swinson said she does not expect revenues to change significantly. That comes at a tough time as the district will be expected to enact tougher academic standards that match those of other states, as well as set teachers' raises based on performance. That means more cost cutting is the only solution.
Board members began scratching their heads as to how to do that.
Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley questioned whether the district could cut some from the $750,000 budgeted as an increase for fuel and utilities.
Swinson said that amount was necessary to make sure those expenses were covered.
"Can we look for efficiencies to bring this number down?" Hurley said. "I'm not sure we've looked at everything we can do."
Ideas such as making sure school lights are turned off or adjusting thermostats were suggested as well as offering more employee training programs online.
Swinson said each school is being put on an energy budget.
Another area being examined is overtime, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
"We know that we've taken a number of buses off the road," she said. "That increases overtime, but payroll for transportation has gone down by $1.5 million over the last four years."
Administrators are now examining bus routes to ensure they are as efficient as possible as well as how much gets spent on drivers for field trips.
However, it's a balancing act. Things might reach a point where buses might need to be returned to the road as demand rises.
"Ridership is up by 1,000 kids," said Renalia DuBose, assistant superintendent for administration. "More parents putting their kids on the bus because gas is expensive."