School district will use $1.8 million to plug budget holes
Word of the Education Jobs Act money arrived just days ahead of Thursday’s announcement that the school district and teachers union have a tentative settlement of their longstanding contract dispute.
The tentative settlement calls for a teacher pay hike that is expected to cost the district about $1 million this school year.
The district already had a budget hole before the teachers settlement, Superintendent Karen Schulte said.
To fix the shortfall, Schulte had proposed three days of nonpaid furlough for employees this year, saving about $1.1 million.
Furloughs were not a part of the teachers contract settlement, however, so the district has to find that money elsewhere.
Enter the new federal money, which is supposed to help schools retain workers.
Getting rid of furloughs is allowed under the rules, Schulte said.
That leaves $700,000. Schulte said the federal money would cover about $500,000 in unanticipated retirement and insurance costs, and that’s also allowed.
That leaves $200,000, and Schulte said an allowable use will be found for that money, too.
But school board President Bill Sodemann said those uses do not sound like retaining workers.
“Give me one person who will be retained because of this,” said Sodemann, clearly frustrated.
He also wondered whether constituents would misunderstand.
“John Q. Public is going to say, ‘You mean we have a stimulus plan to give raises to people?’ I don’t know how else you’re going to cut it. I mean, money is money is money,” Sodemann said.
Board member Karl Dommershausen said how the district handles the funding of the teachers’ increase will be a separate issue.
The school district had budgeted for a 0.5 percent pay increase for all employees, but the tentative contract agreement calls for teacher raises of 2 percent now and 0.5 percent in January.
That means the district still needs to come up with $1 million for teacher pay raises.
The school board will have to decide where to get it, Schulte said.
Possibilities are more budget cuts, using a reserve fund or increasing the tax levy.