By Janet Huffman
Special to the Herald
Superintendent Dan Peterson opened discussion on consolidation of director positions at the Central Community School Board’s regular meeting Wednesday.
Peterson cited enrollment decline (70 students in the last two years) as a decision factor contributing to the need for budgetary reductions. He said the district would need to use unspent balance funds to cover costs this year and anything that would reduce current costs would help in cost reductions for next year. In a memo to the board, Peterson noted “tough conversations” will have to start and “tough decisions” have to be made.
With costs for recovery of unspent balance funds this year, declining enrollment, and potential personnel cost increases, Peterson said $810,000 in budget reductions were needed in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. He added that even at a state 2 percent allowable growth rate, there will be no new money next year. The 1,487 district enrollment figure is the smallest ever.
Consolidating the transportation director and buildings and grounds director positions effective Dec. 21 would provide immediate savings in salary and benefits and ongoing efficiency of maintenance and transportation departments working together, Peterson said. The new position would be director of operations and the current building and grounds director would assume all duties. Operations of both departments would be based in the 11th Street building (formerly the Krieger building). An estimated $51,000 would be realized in annual savings.
Board member Jim Irwin was the first to speak to the recommendation.
“It’s not personal; it’s about budget and position,” he said. “We are going to have more conversations in the next few months.”
Irwin said changes in the transportation department had been looked at before, that money for cars and buses comes from a different fund and salaries are from the general fund which is impacted by less available money. He added that the board did not want to do anything unsafe for students.
“There are some very legitimate concerns, but I think it can be worked out,” Irwin said, later adding, “I support where we are going with budget issues.”
All school board members voiced concerns about cutting teachers and programs and agreed it was their last option.
Board member Steve Fuglsang questioned the timing in losing a director and full-time mechanic (Ryan Jones submitted his resignation) and suggested the district might be setting up the new position for failure. Some administrative positions also might be cut, he said, adding he felt pushed for a decision.
Board member Jennifer Naeve said parents’ biggest concern was a contact point for transportation; board member Kurt Rickard said a greater overlap in combining positions would be better; and board president Christy Kunz suggested combining positions such as driver and mechanic. Questions about secretarial needs, need for a full-time mechanic, and more information were voiced.
Building and grounds director Keith Walker said he knew vey little about the position but that current transportation director Steve Thiltgen would help him until the end of December.
“It will be learning time for me,” Walker said, noting that he would inform the board if he could not handle the added workload. Walker would be paid an additional $10,000 if he assumes duties as director of operations.
School board members reiterated elimination of the position was about budget savings, efficiency and keeping cost reductions away from students.
In a follow-up of the meeting, Peterson said he had discussed elimination of the position with the transportation director but no official notice of termination had been given. In the process of creating a director of operation and if the board approves, Peterson’s recommendation, the building and grounds director would have to resign and the board, by motion, could rehire him in the new position.
According to legal counsel, the new position does not have to be posted, Peterson said. No decision was made but action is expected at the Dec. 19 board meeting.