District to cut nearly $1 million from budgetIn good times, public service is all-consuming and difficult. In tough times, it’s that times 10. Cloquet Schools Superintendent Ken Scarbrough took a few moments to thank the school board members for their service at Monday’s meeting in honor of “School Board Recognition Week.”
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
In good times, public service is all-consuming and difficult. In tough times, it’s that times 10. Cloquet Schools Superintendent Ken Scarbrough took a few moments to thank the school board members for their service at Monday’s meeting in honor of “School Board Recognition Week.”
The recognition is likely especially appreciated during these current tough times as the board moved to accept Scarbrough’s recommendation to reduce the district budget for the next school year by $900,000. He conservatively recommended that $500,000 to $900,000 be cut from the budget if the board decides to levy funds to meet its Other Post-Employment Benefit (OPEB) liability. If they decide not to levy those funds, Scarbrough said he will ask for further budget cuts later.
Scarbrough outlined four “major factors” that will influence the district’s budget: negotiations over teacher and other staff salaries, an increase in delayed state aid, the state budget deficit, and the federal stimulus package funds.
The board members continued to weigh in on the OPEB levy issue, but decided to vote when the full board was present. Treasurer Duane Buytaert was absent Monday.
“The liability is there, it’s not going away,” said board clerk Stephanie Hammitt during the working session. “That doesn’t mean I like it, but it’s a bill that we owe. Whether it’s an administrator or a cook, we owe this money to these people.”
The school district has 51 retired district employees entitled to OPEB insurance coverage, seven of which are over age 65, the age at which the retiree receives a Medicare supplement and the cost to the district is reduced. Administrators make up 22 percent of the OPEB cost. The board is phasing out this plan, but is currently liable for around $11 million in OPEB costs.
Board member Ron Gittings asked if there is some way to show the public exactly how much money comes in per pupil and where the district spends that money. “The public would really, really like to know the answer to that question,” he said.
Posting of the recently vacated position of buildings and grounds director, a position added in 2006, raised a heated discussion during the board’s working session.
“Why would we not post the position? This thing saves us money,” said Gittings.
Board member Jim Crowley said custodians “in the trenches” he’s talked with don’t think they need an administrator. When the position was approved, it was described as a “hands-on” position, not administrative. Gittings defended the position saying the size of the district requires it to be “more managerial by its very nature.”
Scarbrough responded that when this position was added, the board wanted more accountability in the area of building maintenance and reduced overtime.
“This did not go over well with the custodial staff," he said. "You take away their overtime, they get upset.” He added that they also didn’t like the changes on their work orders.
Jim Crowley suggested the custodians get involved with developing a revised job description. He also suggested the board look at similar positions in other districts.
“We had the custodians involved last time,” said Scarbrough. “We asked other districts what they do. The buildings were being run down… you said this has to change. If you want that kind of organization back, what you had prior [to this position]… I will administer anything you want to administer.”
The board agreed to hold an open meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, March 2 with the custodial staff to discuss the job description of the buildings and grounds director prior to posting the position.