School board cuts budget, looks at early retirement

District 51 School Board members adopted a $1.64 million reduction plan for the district’s 2009-10 budget Tuesday night and reviewed a plan to reduce the 2010-11 budget.

The board approved $1.69 million in cuts to the re-adopted budget by skimming funding from most departments, reincorporating some money left over or unspent by certain programs or departments, cutting back on travel and reimbursements, and taking some money from reserves. The board also added $50,500 to the now $154.5 million budget to pay for a dean of students at Grand Junction High School, which hired a dean because of increased disciplinary issues at the school this year.

The cuts became necessary when student decline left the district with $628,499 less from the state, specific ownership taxes collected $1 million less than budgeted, and the district faced an additional shortfall of $263,189. Capital reserves were adjusted to add $255,000.

No teacher salary cuts were made at Tuesday’s meeting. But after days of negotiations between the district and teacher representation group Mesa Valley Education Association, a decision was reached to remove a teacher inservice day on Feb. 15 next year in exchange for keeping at least one of the two instructional days added to the 2009-10 school year. The other new school day’s fate is still in flux as the board waits to see if the state or another source will provide funding for that day. The school year will end May 26 if funding is not found.

School Board member Diann Rice said she’d like to see the year end May 27 as planned.

“I’m one board member that would like to fund that extra day if there’s any money for it,” she said.

This won’t likely be the end of cuts, as the state has informed the district another $8.3 to $12 million budget shortfall is likely on the the horizon for District 51 next year. The district hopes to save $2.2 to $2.5 million for 2010-11 by offering an early retirement package to most staff that are age 55 or older and have 15 or more years of experience with the district. The offer will not be extended to administrators because the deal would likely cost the district more than it would save, Support Services Executive Director Melissa Callahan DeVita said.

DeVita said she expects 160 of the 230 employees eligible for the plan to take it. That would increase retirements at the end of this year by nearly four-fold, as the average retirement number is 45 a year.

The plan would offer those who take it 75 percent of their current salary each year, sent to a 403b retirement account, for four years if the person retires by June 30, 2010. The district will discuss the offer with employees this week, offer four informational sessions the week of Jan. 11, and ask employees for their decisions by Feb. 26.

The average salary for the 230 employees eligible for the early retirement package is $60,419, with an additional $14,308 worth of benefits.


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