The city’s school district is grappling with a $38 million budget shortfall that could potentially lead to a 14-percent property tax increase, district officials revealed in a special meeting on Monday night.
School officials said the shortfall in the 2019-20 budget is driven by $10.7 million increase in employee salaries and benefits, $9.4 million in charter school expansion, $2.7 million transportation, $6.6 million special education, $381,000 legal, $583,000 security, and $1.7 million substitute teacher expenses.
“This is our true picture right now,” said business administrator Richard Matthews. His presentation showed $558,114,077 in spending and $519,926,367 in revenue for next school year’s budget.
Some school board members were stunned by the prospect of deep cuts in education programs and a massive tax increase on homeowners.
“This is serious and quite shocking,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges. “It’s going to have repercussions in terms of how well our children get educated.”
Matthews outlined a plan to close the gap by eliminating $12 million in vacant jobs, cutting up to $14.4 million in central office spending, and reducing $1.5 million in substitute teacher expenses. His plan also includes saving $500,000 by eliminating the district’s bus ticket program for students living beyond the state mandated mileage requirement for transportation.
“I’m trying very hard not to cut staff and not to cut things for kids. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that,” said superintendent Eileen Shafer.
Some school board members asked about the tax increase. Matthews said the district will increase property taxes by 2-percent to collect $829,119 in revenue and use what’s called “cap bank,” which allows the district to go above the two-percent cap, to raise another $5.1 million from homeowners.
Matthews said the district raised taxes only twice in 11 years.
Presently, homeowners contribute $41.5 million to the school budget. The state provides bulk of the funding. In 2019-20, the state is providing the district $439.25 million, up $13.25 million from the previous school year.
Other board members wanted more details about the cuts.
Board member Kenneth Simmons wanted a list of the vacant positions being eliminated from the budget.
“As much as we’d like to, I don’t think we can close the gap without eliminating personnel,” said Simmons.
“I would tend to agree with you on that one,” replied Matthews.
District officials said the board will be provided details of the cuts on Wednesday night. Matthews said board members will be given copies of the budget on Tuesday.