School budget cuts still on the table

Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Four groups of school district employees — representing paraeducators, secretaries, custodians and administrators — have tentatively agreed to pay concessions for the coming year totaling about $150,000, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella told the Board of Education Monday night.

The board is continuing to negotiate with the teachers’ union as the district looks to cut $1.18 million from its 2009-10 budget, Forcella said. Monday’s meeting drew about 30 audience members, including many teachers.

A budget proposal of $77.12 million for the town and school district failed at referendum last month, and the Board of Finance has agreed to put a revised $75.51 million budget before voters today.

On Monday, the Board of Education voted to send a formal request to the teachers’ union to engage in midterm contract talks. In the absence of pay concessions, Forcella outlined a scenario that included 21 layoffs, 11 teachers and 10 other staff members.

“There’s been a lot of discussion with the different bargaining groups,” Forcella said. “I think the discussions have been very positive. … I think there’s a willingness to really do something as a district to move forward.”

The board did not vote on Forcella’s proposed areas to cut, but noted that the reductions will likely come from a combination of non-staff areas, pay concessions and layoffs.

Forcella and board members also noted the assumption would be that unions agreeing to concessions would not face layoffs.

“The board would take every effort to look at those and not take staff in those areas where the concessions were granted,” Forcella said, adding that the teachers’ union represented the “lion’s share” of contractual pay increases.

Board members agreed Monday not to cut middle school interscholastic sports or implement user fees for high school athletics and other extracurricular programs, two concepts that Forcella had suggested to save about $104,000. But members said they think the district should continue exploring the concept in the future.

“My concern is that the issue of interscholastic sports at (Elisabeth C.) Adams (Middle School) and the user fees … is a major consideration that should not be undertaken under the pressure of a budget or a referendum,” said board member Alan Meyers. “I would like to have a dialogue with ourselves and the community about the pros and cons.”

Other savings, totaling about $400,000, could come in the areas of professional development, supplies and equipment, and the consolidation of bus routes, in addition to other smaller items, Forcella said.

“All of those items in the failed budget were below the prior year, so this is taking another look at those items,” he said. “The risk you run is these are deferred costs because if you don’t buy the equipment, obviously you’re going to have to buy it at some point in time because things don’t last forever.”

Board members said they will likely schedule another meeting to discuss the possible pay concessions later this week. A town meeting on the revised budget is scheduled for 7:30 tonight at Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School, and the second referendum is scheduled for May 19 at all five polling locations.

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