April 1, 2013

RSU 14 discusses cost-center options by Leah Hoenen

Part #1
Doing more with less and finding creative ways to fund education are repeated themes as departments across the Windham-Raymond School District have begun reporting their fiscal year 2014 budgets to the Board of Directors.

The district’s $39.8 million proposed fiscal year 2014 budget contains a small increase over the previous year’s budget and officials are focusing on the value of education the district provides community students without asking for much more taxpayer money.

The board heard from the Regional Education Alternative Learning (REAL) School and the transportation, adult education and facilities departments at its first cost-center workshop Wednesday, March 20.

Board Chairman Catriona Sangster called the proposal responsible, saying of the administration, “They really were trying to present a reasonable budget within each of the cost centers to see how they could put forward a budget that didn’t decimate instruction and affect kids directly.”

She said the district is doing its due diligence to keep costs within reason.

Board Vice Chairman Marge Govoni said cuts still sting. Taking much more funding away will hurt schools, she said.

The board held a second cost-center workshop Wednesday, March 27 and has one scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., Saturday, March 30, in the Windham council chambers.

REAL School presentation
REAL School Principal Pender Makin opened the workshop session, saying “We are asking for not one penny more than we asked the district for last year, or the year before.” RSU 14’s share of the school’s budget is $292,000 to provide services for 17 children.

“For the past nine years, we have never used the entire allocation the district has contributed,” she said. Instead, the REAL School uses about half the money it gets from RSU 14, she said, while serving a greater number of students than it is contracted to work with. The facility has always taken about 20 students, but this year, Makin said, 26 Windham-Raymond students are enrolled.

The REAL School receives the rest of its funding through tuition and transportation from sending districts, as well as through donations, grants and fundraisers, Makin said. The school raises revenue by sending REAL School staff to educate teachers in other districts, she said.

Enrollment can vary based, in part, on whether sending districts want to serve their students’ needs in-house, but Makin said administration is able to make reasonable guesses of the number of pupils it will have and the amount of money it will need.

“Nine years in a row out of 10, we have far exceeded in revenue what we need to meet our needs,” she told board members. Assistant Superintendent Donn Davis said allocation money the REAL School does not use is returned to the district’s undesignated funds balance.

Makin said the school is looking to hire an additional driver to accommodate a student who has moved; currently, other staff, part-time drivers and substitutes are filling in.

The REAL School’s budget reflects a $10,000 drop in funding for professional and technical services because, Makin said, the school is taking on most of that work itself. The budget also includes more money for vehicle maintenance, she said, because the school does not plan to buy new vans this year.
Through financial donations, the REAL School has been able to maintain programs that would otherwise have been lost to funding cuts, Makin said.

Transportation Department
Mike Kelly, district transportation director, said his overall budget proposal calls for less money than last year’s.
The proposal also reflects the completion of several years of work to consolidate and streamline transportation in Windham and Raymond into a single fleet of vehicles operating from one town, said Kelly.

A garage in Raymond is now closed and the district has six fewer buses, he said. Over two years, Kelly said, two positions in the department have been eliminated, including that of a transportation coordinator in Raymond. The person holding that position is retiring and the position will not be filled.

Sangster asked Kelly to explain how the loss of the coordinator position in Raymond works on a day-to-day basis, and Kelly responded that he starts his mornings in Raymond. “It’s important we have that one-on-one contact. I think we can achieve that,” he said, noting that calls to the Raymond transportation office are forwarded to Windham.

The state has given the district the green light to purchase three buses and will reimburse the district with a subsidy for additional equipment on those buses, said Kelly.

Board member Kate Brix asked about the elimination of a full-time, special-education bus driver. Kelly said that person resigned and the district does not need to hire for the position. Because of decreased needs, the district has also reduced the number of bus and van aids, Kelly said.

Kelly said he tracks fuel consumption each month to estimate needs for the next year. District buses fuel at depots in Windham, Raymond and Portland. Those towns and the City of Portland negotiate the purchase of that fuel; the district does not have control over the price, Kelly said.

In total, the district’s 58 vehicles log more than 750,000 miles per year, taking students to and from school and on athletic and field trips. Those trips are monitored by a software program that allows the district to keep close track of trip requests and completions, Kelly said.

Kelly and board members also briefly discussed a plan presented during last year’s budget cycle to construct a permanent building to house district transportation offices at the Windham Public Works site. The transportation department now uses two rented trailers on that property, for which it pays $11,000 a year. “I’m not sure the age of these trailers when we moved in, but they’re pretty beat up,” said Kelly.

That project is still in the assessment phase and, while there is no final figure yet on a cost, Kelly said he feels safe saying it will be significantly less than the $200,000 proposed last year.

Adult Education

Windham-Raymond Adult Education also did not ask for an increase in its local appropriation.
Director Tom Nash said his department was reducing the time of a pathways coordinator and making cuts to supplies, travel and marketing spending.

“Things are tough for us all,” he said, noting that some cuts to academic programming could be on the way.

Nash said the adult education budget shows little increase on expenditures. He said the program, where enrollment is up about 20 percent, has applied for grants and works with local businesses to generate additional revenue.

Nash said adult education programs must have career pathways in place by next year, and is facing substantial changes to a standard test. Big overhauls are coming to the GED exam, which is expected to become a more difficult exam as it is also completely computerized and administered by a private company, said Nash. The company will charge $25 per sitting and Maine will front the cost for two years, he said. “Most of these adults don’t have even that discretionary funding,” said Nash.

Board member Marge Govoni brought up the possibility of raising fees for adult education programs to raise revenues.

Nash said, “We haven’t gotten there yet. We need to study comparable programs’ charges. Will it bring in $20,000? No.”

Facilities manager Bill Hansen said his budget shows a reduction of one person, which is a correction based on real time: a person working five-eighths time was listed as one full-time person.

The facilities budget calls for security upgrades to school entrances, siding and masonry repairs and sidewalk construction. Another project is the multi-year installation of projectors built into ceilings, Hansen said.

The budget includes money to install built-in furniture for hallway work stations, to meet fire code.
Hansen asked for a $4,000 increase for uniforms, to help make support staff in buildings visible and easily identifiable. “With 39 staff, it’s a lot to start with,” he said. Hansen said he would like to give each person five shirts to begin with and offer options, such as pockets or short sleeves, so employees can make choices about their uniforms.

Part #2
Cost centers across the Windham-Raymond school district have presented trim budget proposals to the district’s Board of Directors as it prepares to debate the $39.8 million fiscal year 2014 budget. Some schools reported last week that they plan to reduce staffing in response to enrollment changes.

The board has heard a series of cost-center presentations from schools and district managers, each with few increases as the budget proposal before the board is up $880,000 or 2.26 percent over last year’s.

The board will now deliberate the proposals it has heard after taking public comment on the budget. 

Windham High School 
Windham High School expects an increase in enrollment, and currently anticipates having 1,100 students next year, said Principal Chris Howell.

Going into budget preparations, the high school aimed to cut $70,000 from its budget, he said. As a result, the school proposes to eliminate a part-time industrial technology teacher position and cut back on some of that program’s supplies, said Howell. The planned reduction of a family and consumer science position from full-time to four-fifths time will eliminate the fabric and sewing arts program at the school, he said. Another proposed reduction, Howell said, is that of an education technician in the alternative education program. 

“The determination of where to make cuts was based on the lowest enrollment or on classes that do not meet our 22 credit graduation requirements, basically classes that are electives,” said Howell.

The high school budget shows increases related to two positions partially funded by grant money that will help students make four-year plans and develop job skills while connecting the high school and its students to the local business community, said Howell.

There were no changes to the high school’s supply lines, he said. 

Middle Schools 
Windham Middle School principal Charlie Haddock said his school had to examine staffing to keep ratios at 25 students per teacher. As a result, the school plans to reduce one-and-three-fifths teachers and has dropped one class from the sixth grade and two from the seventh grade, while adding one to eighth grade to maintain a 24:1 ratio there. 

The board was told to expect no changes at the middle school. “Zero change. The only changes are in staffing,” said Haddock.

At Jordan Small Middle School, Principal Randy Crockett said one sixth grade teaching position is scheduled to be eliminated. Fewer than 200 students were enrolled at JSMS as of Crockett’s March 30 presentation. “We’re right up against limits. If we had a surge of five or six students, we’d be squeezed in every grade but seventh,” he said.

Crockett said the music program is being reduced to four days as week, although class offerings will not change. In addition, Crockett said his school will reduce one interventional education technician position by eight hours and a library education technician to four days a week, leaving the library inaccessible one day a week. 

Crockett’s budget includes money for two document cameras and $1,000 more for textbooks, in addition to more money for art supplies. He said the library’s purchasing could be reduced, and reported decreased money for physical education and information technology. 

Elementary Schools 
Raymond Elementary School currently has 218 students enrolled, and is also facing staffing reductions. Fourth grade will have one fewer teacher and one less educational interventionist, Crockett told the board.

“I feel we have the staffing to meet the needs of the students with the reduction in place,” he said.

Speaking after the presentations, Jen Moore called the elimination of a fourth-grade teacher “a rash decision.”

The Raymond Elementary School budget proposal also calls for more projectors and 50 new laptops for fourth and fifth graders; those computers were included in last year’s budget. Other increases include a laptop with mixing capabilities for the music program and iBooks and MacBooks for fifth and sixth grades.

Manchester Elementary School Principal Cindy Curtis said her school’s budget calls for no increases, but features $15,000 less for supplies and the reduction of one classroom teacher. In addition, the school reorganized office staff, creating a 29-hour secretarial position without benefits as a cost-cutting measure, she said.

Manchester has reduced support staff in the budget by counting them in different categories, she said.

Windham Primary School Principal Dr. Kyle Rhodes spoke of a crowded building, describing “a school ready to burst at the seams,” with 43 full classrooms projecting similar, and potentially larger, class sizes for next year.

Rhodes said his school will receive fewer resources because of reduced federal funding. The budget Rhodes presented contains $20,000 less for supplies and $9,000 less in stipends for music, response-to-intervention and bullying programs. “Teacher-specific needs will be more difficult to find,” he said. 

Special Education 
Linda Powell, special education director, said staff is essential to programming, which is tailored to each child’s needs. “We are not offering any more than they are qualified for,” she said, of the services the district offers its students with special needs. “It’s such a child-focused staff. This is not the services, it’s the staff.”

The special education portion of the budget is up $59,000, said Powell, noting there is no state program for students with autism, a spectrum disorder that results in very complex issues.
The district serves students with special-education needs from kindergarten through 12th grade, Powell said. 

Part #3
 The Board of Directors of the Windham-Raymond School District has heard cost-center presentations for the entire district as it prepares to debate the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget.

The $39.8 million budget is up just 2.26 percent over last year’s.

Technology director Bob Hickey said the district is cognizant of financial difficulties and each department of the district is working hard to keep expenditures down. 

“We are maintaining, not growing or expanding. There are no big, expensive endeavors because we are all sensitive to budget times. People are losing their homes and other people have had no raises in years. In the last five years, the overall budget has gone up only half of one percent,” Hickey said.

Hickey presented a budget that is up 12 percent over last year’s, to cover software licenses, maintenance and leases. This year, Hickey said, the district will spend $59,000 on 3,800 software licenses that are, in part, helping to match computer systems across the district.

“In terms of increases in software, it’s nothing exotic. These are meat-and-potatoes operations expenditures,” Hickey said. Insurance costs are increasing, while some annual software fees are down. The district plans to spend $53,000 to continue a program of purchasing MacBooks from the state at $47 apiece. Currently, more than 700 are in district classrooms and the district will add 400 more this year, Hickey said. 

School Nutrition 
Jeanne Reilly, school nutrition director, said her department will spend more this year because of the rising cost of food, expansion of the program and the replacement of outdated equipment. The food-services budget is up 3.7 percent.

“Everyone who goes to the grocery store knows the price of food has gone up. We are preparing more meals, so we buy more food overall,” she said.

RSU 14 earned a U.S. Department of Agriculture certification in November, earning 6 cents per meal served, which will bring in an additional $18,000, said Reilly. That certification is tied to new regulations, she said.

She said she plans to continue focus on marketing and promoting the program.

“New guidelines generated negative press for school lunch programs,” Reilly said. “Many schools saw a 10 to 20 percent participation decline.” RSU 14 has worked hard to explain and promote its program and has fortunately not seen a decline, she said. “Participation drives our revenue,” Reilly said.

Thirty-seven percent of district students qualify for free and reduced-cost meals; only 30 percent of those 1,000 students eat lunch at school, said Reilly. She wants to reach out to them. The district encourages more participation in the free and reduced-cost program and is serving more than twice the number of free and low-cost meals than it did five years ago, she said.

And, the food services department plans continue its ongoing efforts to bring more local foods into the program and make more meals from scratch, said Reilly. That will mean some more training for staff.

“We have increased the number of meals we serve without increasing staff hours, but that’s significant,” she said, in response to questions about how the department might trim its budget.

In addition, Reilly said her program has marked money in its proposed budget for maintenance and replacement of some ageing equipment.

Curriculum director Christine Hesler said the district is seeing a 5.1 percent, or $22,653, decrease in federal Title 1 funding for the coming fiscal year because of the sequestration. That means the district plans to eliminate two education technician positions, she said. Title 1 education technicians work in Windham Primary, Raymond Elementary and Manchester Schools, Hesler said.

Hesler said the district is closely watching lawmakers as they work through their budget season.

Because of the realignment of some line items, professional development and technology alignment are shown as increased expenditures in the curriculum budget, Hesler said.

RSU 14 will host Jump Start to Kindergarten for the first time this year, said Hesler. That is a six-week program for 30 children who scored well below benchmarks on their kindergarten screening, she said. The Sebago Education Alliance is covering the cost of training and the materials to teach the program. “We always hear about No Child Left Behind,” said Hesler. “This is really no child starts behind.” 

District athletics director Rich Drummond said the 1.29 percent increase in his proposed budget is tied to teacher contracts. “This budget is basically what was presented for the fiscal year 2012-2013,” said Drummond.

“It’s really a budget that’s based on needs, not wants, and it’s a budget that will definitely be able to keep kids safe and give us the ability to compete competitively,” said Drummond.

The $632,600 budget will produce no cuts in athletic programming, he said.

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