NB School Board makes reductions to address deficit

Cuts affect staff positions

Randi Johnson, the North Branch Area Public Schools director of finance and human resources, explained to the School Board March 9 that if the board took no action on the budget at the meeting, the district would be projecting a $1.7 million deficit in its general fund next year.
The board did take action at the meeting: It unanimously voted to make reductions, which includes nearly 28 full-time-equivalent positions across all of the district’s schools.
Johnson was quick to point out that full-time-equivalent position reductions don’t always correlate directly to staff layoffs.
“It’s always important to note that we talk in terms of full-time-equivalent positions that are being reduced, but the positions that we’re talking about don’t necessarily reflect the person that’s losing their job,” she said. “There are lots of positions where a person is being reassigned to another building and bumping yet another person. The FTE numbers don’t reflect the brunt of the impact this has on staff.”
However, she did note that this year the district is seeing fewer reductions from attrition than it has in past budget cycles when cuts needed to be made.
“We do have some attrition coming through resignations and retirements, but not as many as we typically have,” she said. “Much more is coming through layoffs, reassignments and transfers than we normally see in a year when we’re doing reductions.”
The reasons why the reductions are needed to balance the district’s budget are multifaceted.
“We have declining enrollment, and we’re projecting we’ll continue to decline,” Johnson said. “We’re not declining as fast as we were a few years ago, so it is moderating, but our funding is based upon the number of students we serve. When we project a decline in enrollment, that results in a decline in resources. The larger issue is the state funding formulas have not kept up with inflation. That’s been true for two decades. The increases that we get from the state are not enough to keep up with expenses as they grow.”
As part of the vote, reductions were also made to contracted services and supplies, and there were changes to the district’s energy assumptions.
Some staff positions the district was looking to fill will remain vacant, and the “begindergarten” pilot program, which the district instituted last year for 5-year-olds before they enter kindergarten, was nixed due to low enrollment.
School Board Vice Chairman Tim MacMillan said making budgeting decisions that result in reductions of any sort is difficult.
“This isn’t our first time that we’ve gone through this type of meeting or had this type of hearing during which we’ve talked about the budget,” he said. “These aren’t easy decisions. The board looks at them, and they’re not easy for the board. I know they’re not easy for you (Johnson) and your staff. Thank you to the people in our district who still get up in the morning and come to work and try to do the best things for our kids.”

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