School board weighs millions in budget cuts

School board weighs millions in budget cuts

April 15th, 2011 by Adam Crisp in News

PROPOSED CUTS

$4.8 million: Dependent health care costs

$2 million: Building maintenance

$127,000: Reducing librarian contracts

$800,000: Leave, vacancy, resignation reserves

$476,000: Delaying benefits 60 days for new hires

$2 million: Eliminate Health Reimbursement Account program

$550,000: Cut eight special teacher positions

$490,000: Eliminate bus driver benefits

$360,099: Cut school certified positions

$750,000: Do not add new adult high school program

$100,000: Do not add new ROTC program

$1.2 million: Eliminate FY 2012 textbook purchase

Source: Hamilton County schools

Hamilton County school board members are considering all the ways the school system can arrive at $14.3 million in cuts needed to balance next year's budget.

On Thursday, the system presented a plan that relies heavily on cuts to employee health benefits, central office staffing and funding for building maintenance.

"This is just a plan, and there are lots of options," said board member Linda Mosley.

Board members said all the cuts could be scaled back if teachers would agree to pay more for their health insurance. The current budget proposal calls for employees' premiums for dependent coverage to be increased to $200 per month.

Single employees, however, will continue to pay $25 a month, or 5 percent of the monthly premium.

"Single-person premiums could be doubled without causing too much heartburn," said board member Mike Evatt. "It would be nice if we could make the increase more equitable for everyone."

The Hamilton County Education Association, the teachers union, has blocked efforts to increase premiums in the past. Dependent insurance premiums aren't governed by the union-negotiated contract.

"That's just sinful," said board member Rhonda Thurman. "In the real world, a lot of people have had their benefits cut and their premiums doubled."

The system must present its budget to the Hamilton County Commission by the second week in May. That provides little time to negotiate with the union, which would have to agree to the terms and hold a vote on the insurance increase before the budget is complete.

"I'm not very hopeful at all that it could happen," Mosley said. "There's just not enough time."

So board members will move forward with cuts that could include eliminating health insurance for roughly 50 contract bus drivers, eliminating some teaching jobs, holding off on textbook purchases and stopping plans to create an ROTC program at Sequoyah High School.

The schools are facing a long list of cost increases, including nearly $1.3 million more in special education requests and $4.6 million in health insurance costs.

Superintendent Jim Scales said the system could make most of the staff reductions by not filling vacancies and by moving staff between schools.

The school board will meet again at 5 p.m. Thursday April 21 to further discuss the budget.