Less money, more changes

Two million dollars can be a lot of money in the education system. Two million dollars is also the amount of money that Duncan Public Schools anticipates its budget will be cut by for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

While elements of uncertainty are still present in the situation, the district is attempting to make several changes that it hopes will reduce the negative effects the cuts will have on its community. These changes include limiting and reducing spending in several different areas, cutting costs, reducing the number of employees through attrition, and the possibility of not rehiring teachers who have temporary contracts with the district.

The district is taking anywhere from a 5- to 10-percent cut in state aid, which will result in an approximate loss of $2 million from the district’s general fund, according to administration officials. This comes on the heels of an approximately $1.8 million cut from last school year to the current one.

According to district finance director Channa Byerly, while last year’s cuts were caused by the district receiving a smaller portion of the state allocation to education, this year’s are caused by the state allocation being smaller, while the district’s percentage of the allocation is the same. Essentially, for this year, Duncan got a smaller piece of the pie, but the pie was the same size, while next year, Duncan gets the same portion of the pie, but the pie will be smaller.

According to district superintendent Melonie Hau, the district’s resources are such that it can maintain stability even in the face of these cuts.

“There are other schools that are doing some drastic things; we’re in a position where, if we stay strategic now, we can just maintain some stability,” she said. “We’ll have to do some sacrifices, but we’ll still be able to hopefully keep class sizes stable where they are, make sure that we’re delivering quality programs.”

Part of the reason why Duncan is in this manageable position is because of its carryover fund, which is essentially unspent money from each year that the district can use to fund subsequent years. Hau said that the district is attempting to maintain stability through a combination of using carryover funds and cutting spending, as the fund can’t be used to solve all of the district’s financial woes.

“We still have a healthy carryover, so we know we’re going to continue to dip into that,” she said. “[The fund was] at 14 percent; we’ll be at 10 percent after next year. We cannot dip below 8 percent, which is why we need to take some cuts now. We’re going to do a combination of dipping into the carryover funds and cutting the budget.”

Those spending reductions are taking several different forms. There are many ways that the district is looking at cutting costs, and several other things that may (or, in some cases, may not) be affected by the budget cuts, including:

  • Reducing the number of employees through attrition.

“What that means is, when someone retires or someone moves on, then we will probably not replace that position or we’ll do some rearranging of staff in order to save the cost of that position,” Hau said.

  • Considering not rehiring some temporary teachers.

In Duncan, teachers receive temporary contracts for their first three years, and those teachers have to be re-hired by the district after each of those years. According to district officials, some of these teachers may not be re-hired.

“It’s like a big puzzle. You have a big puzzle, you have to lay out all your temporary contracts, where they’re at, because you have to be strategic with it,” Byerly said.

“It’s not just a ‘we’re the mean people that come in and say, “you’re gone.”’ There are a lot of factors that will factor into that.”

  • Limiting spending on substitute teachers.

According to high school principal Justin Smith, the district is working on different solutions to handle the reduced spending on subs, including using library, office and teachers’ aids, military recruiters, other teachers, and more.

“Right now, we are only paying subs for long-term situations,” he said. “We’ve tried to be creative and reach out to the community a little bit for some volunteers.”

  • Reducing energy costs throughout the district.

According to district maintenance director Len Lawson, not only is the district replacing its lighting with more efficient options, but it is also taking steps to reduce costs associated with temperature control and water.

“We are looking at changing light fixtures to LED fixtures, which will cut the cost in half of the lights in the facilities. We’re also looking at controlling the heat and air conditioning system when people aren’t in the building,” he said. “I hope to implement [the changes] this summer.”

  • Cutting a small amount of funding to activities, including sports.

According to Byerly, while activities may not take a very large cut, some may be affected, particularly in areas that rely upon the general fund, such as transportation and facility cost.

  • Reducing spending on coaches and other similar employees.

According to an e-mail sent throughout the district by Hau, the district will be “reducing the amount of extra-duty stipends which includes restructuring contract coaching payments and summer work stipends.”

  • Career tech programs, such as DECA and FFA, will be affected.

According to Lesa Hefner, the DECA sponsor, not only will DECA be affected by the general activity funding decrease, but the state-level funding of career tech programs is being cut, too.

“We get a certain amount of funds to handle those programs and all the activities and things that we do, and that funding is being cut. So it’s not just public school education funding, but career tech funding is being decreased as well,” she said. “It’s going to end up costing students to be involved.”

  • The STEM program will be relatively unaffected.

High school STEM teacher Gretchen Taylor said that, despite a small cut in state funding, the advanced learning program should be fine.

“There’s a very small, minor 5-percent cut. There still is the state funding coming in,” she said. “I think we will have all the resources we need. We have community support as well, so if there are additional projects and funding we need, I know there are people in the community that will be willing to help.”