Budget cuts - will leadership prevail?
(Thursday, April 30, 2015)
By Abby Brockmann
May, June, and July may prove to be interesting months for Silver Lake, Kan. - and the entire state - due to the prevailing issue of financial cuts that are hitting every district in Kansas.
According to Superintendent Tim Hallacy, there is already $87,000 that will have to be cut from this year’s budget alone.
“We have already begun to address the budget cuts by eliminating field trips paid out of operating funds, reducing supply orders by 30 percent, reducing Professional Development by 15 percent, canceling large capital projects, suspending vehicle replacements, reducing summer employment, reconfiguring our speech language position, finding savings on retirement positions, and delaying some uniform purchases.
“The challenge is these are mostly spending delays and do nothing to address the long-term cost trends. We will eventually have to purchase supplies and address maintenance and capital projects. Unfortunately, the vast majority of costs are employee-related expenses so as the state continues to defund our operating funds, we will lose employees which in turn leads to less student services, less student supports, and fewer student opportunities,” Hallacy explained.
As far as getting out of school early to save the district money, the rumor is now put to a close. According to Hallacy, school will not be dismissed early as any part of a cost-saving measure.
“The problem with that approach is our certified staff (teachers and administrators) work under contracts that set salaries for the school year. If we cancel days at the end of the year, certified staff are still paid even if they don’t work. Our classified staff typically aren’t compensated as much as certified staff and don’t get paid if they don’t work.
“That approach doesn’t save us much money, it reduces learning opportunities for students, and I don’t like trying to balance the budget by cutting our employees who make the least,” Hallacy reported.
Delaying school start times was another common question for Hallacy.
“I assume school will start on time in August. We certainly won’t delay the start of school as part of any cost-savings measure. However, the start of school could be impacted as part of a legal ruling in the school finance (Gannon) case if the court orders the finance formula fixed and that schools will remain closed until that task is completed,” he explained.
The legality for how schools are being funded starts with the Block Grant that was signed into law March 25, 2015. This replaced the old funding formula that proved to work well for almost all schools.
The question is, why did the state replace it?
“The block grant falls far short of what the courts and studies have previously indicated would be adequate and constitutional levels of funding. If the legislature and Governor had fully funded the old funding formula, it would have added approximately $450 million to education,” he explained.
According to Hallacy, he believes that the block grant appears to be a thinly disguised legal maneuver designed to help the legislative and executive branches defy an impending legal opinion on school finance the state knows they will lose once again.
Communication to the staff proves to be vital when dealing with the Block Grant. Hallacy said he has encouraged the staff by reminding them to check legislative updates and to try their best to stay informed.
“I try to inform the staff and share information on both the legislative process and school finance issues since both are inextricably intertwined and deeply impact education.
“We also encourage them to be creative in how we continue to try and do more with less and look for ways to stretch limited resources,” Hallacy stated.
Because of the Block Grant and various cuts, students are bound to see a change next year and in coming years.
The changes, however, are yet to be determined.
“Eventually the cuts will reach more employees since the vast majority of our expenses are in employee-related costs. Once future cuts begin to reach employees, students will see and experience them because people are how student supports, services and opportunities are made possible,” Hallacy explained.
Budget cuts have been a prevailing issue over the years and continue to be a work in progress. Hallacy explained the process of how decisions are made about budget cuts.
“We try to estimate our ending balances first. Then we try to determine how deep the cuts will be and how the cuts may be structured such as are they to Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP). Then we estimate what will happen to ongoing expenses we have such as health insurance, heating and cooling, fuel, supplies, and employee related costs.
“Ultimately we try to mitigate any cuts and reductions as much as possible from negatively impacting instruction,” he explained.
According to Hallacy, everything leads back to reducing costs. The Board of Education ultimately has power over handling budget cuts, but Hallacy works in collaboration.
“The superintendent can make decisions on short-term spending, purchase delays. and small capital projects under $20,000. The Board is vested with the authority to make decisions on personnel, programs, policy, and large purchases over $20,000. The Board often relies on recommendations from the administrative team but is free to modify, change or pursue other solutions as they see fit,” Hallacy shared.
As a superintendent, Hallacy said he hopes to mitigate the negative impact that budget cuts have on student supports, services, opportunities, and protect the instructional integrity of the organization for as long as possible.
“Since this negative funding environment has lasted so long, a lot of the actions now are simply trying to position ourselves to survive the continual cuts and reductions as long as possible,” he said.
According to Hallacy, long-term effects of the budget cuts are mainly associated with future educators. There are already shortages to fill positions, and higher numbers of people are leaving the profession.
“How can we convince some of our best and brightest to forgo some of the more lucrative career opportunities available to them and instead choose public service and education when we fail as a state to recognize and value that service?” Hallacy said.
Unfortunately, he said if the crisis continues, opportunities and student supports are eliminated. And to Hallacy, the most tragic long-term effect will be students not being adequately prepared to compete in the 21st century.
“When that happens we will all lose!” he said.
Along with long-term effects, sports seem to be another resounding concern regarding budget cuts. The question with sports is, “What complications will arise?”
“As we are forced to consider deeper cuts, we will be forced to consider cuts and reductions to supplemental contracts (coaching and sponsors), cuts to specific sports such as those that don’t generate revenue through admission, and reductions in the number of performances and competitions.
“Eventually the cuts will reduce opportunities for students to participate, make deeper connections to school and sharpen a skill set they will rely on throughout their working careers,” Hallacy explained.
On the bright side, Silver Lake may be in a stronger position than similarly sized schools. The district has been conservative with expenditures the past several years in order to build up cash balances and save up for future project goals.
“As far as actual cuts over the past several years, most districts have arrived at similar conclusions and actions: to cut non-student areas first and to protect classrooms as long as possible,” Hallacy stated.
Overall, Hallacy posed one final question regarding budget cuts.
“The immediate question for public education in Kansas is, ‘Will leadership and rule of law prevail and public education will be supported and funding at constitutional levels or will Kansas descend into a constitutional crisis?’” he asked.