District budget belt tightening to extend to teachers, principal

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — Staff and administrative reductions and tightened class sizes are among the ways Trenton Public Schools officials are considering to deal with looming budget issues.

Those were among the possibilities Supt. John Savel laid out at Monday’s Board of Education some for cuts that could keep the district out of the red next year. But only next year, he said.

Even with the cuts and modest revenue enhancements, Savel said, the district would spend most of its nearly $2 million anticipated budget surplus at the end of the current school year, leaving a surplus of only about $400,000 next year.

The reductions discussed Monday are a response to what he called “devastating” state revenue cuts in 2009-10, which has seen Trenton’s per-pupil funding reduced by $165, a loss of $472,000. The state also eliminated the district’s 20J funds of $280 per pupil for a $778,000 loss.

“We attempted to pay our expenses for 2009-10 with revenues that were returned to the 2003-04 level,” Savel said.

That has led to an anticipated surplus this year of about $2.5 million, according to January estimates. Even if the state makes further reductions next year, Trenton’s budget would show a $1.4 million deficit next year if nothing is done.

But officials expect additional state reductions next year to raise that deficit to about $2.2 million in 2010-11 unless Trenton officials act.

The district has made over $500,000 in cuts midyear, Savel said, including transportation, discretionary budgets, athletics, nonunion health benefits reductions and elimination of community education. About half of that came last month in the form of salary cuts for Savel and administrative staff (5 percent for next year), Trenton Educational Support Personnel union members (5 percent this year and 3 percent next year), and district paraprofessionals (2 percent next year).

Every administrator with budget responsibilities was asked to develop and present proposed budgets. Administrative council members then considered input and suggestions from all employees through e-mail and meetings, and administrators then met over the last few months to discuss possible cuts and to study all available information before reaching a consensus on the proposed budget.

Changes floated Monday include cutting 5.4 teacher positions because of the closing of Taylor Elementary School, 4.5 due to lost enrollment 10 due to the tightening of class sizes, all for a total anticipated savings of about $1.35 million. An elementary principal position also will be cut, Savel said. He declined to say whose position it will be, adding that officials are “still working on names.”
Class size numbers will vary, Savel said, but officials will try to keep it about 25 at the lower elementary levels and move up from there to around 30 or 31.
“Those numbers are still going to be lower than most districts,” he said.

Savel added that the latest proposed round of reductions is different from the previous ones.

“In past years we have whittled down the budget as much as possible without affecting the kids in the classroom,” he said, “but now in many cases these changes are going to affect kids because the state has broken its promise to take care of kids when it comes to education.”

The board will consider the most recent round of suggested cuts over the next few meetings. Savel said additional cuts that may need to be made in the future depend a great deal on what state officials do. Trenton expects another $268 per student cut for it all other districts, and in addition is anticipating about 80 fewer students than this year, which translates into about $665,000 less in revenue.

“This assumes a foundation allowance of $8,746, less $433 in anticipated adjustments,” Savel said. “This returns Trenton Public Schools to the level of funding we received during the 2002-03 school year.”

The district also must do without the nearly $600,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money it was able to use toward salaries.
“As a result we had to make some significant cuts,” he said.