Dr. Feser's school budget plan represents less than 1% increase

The school superintendent’s budget proposal for 2016-17, which represents an increase of .8% over the current year, is the lowest budget increase put forth in at least the last 12 years, according to School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser.

The plan she outlined with the local press on Monday afternoon, and then later Monday with the school board, calls for spending $91.786 million in 2016-17, $776,312 more than the current year’s budget of $91.010 million.

“It’s a very modest increase,” Feser said, adding, “We feel really good about what we’ve done.”

In a budget document she presented to the school board, she says that in addition to being fiscally responsible, the budget seeks to “sustain programs and supports aimed at providing to every child a quality education.”

The plan includes what Feser described as “modest requests,” creating a new half-day pre-kindergarten program at Pumpkin Delight School to serve about 35 children; creating computer science pathways, which are courses aimed at learning computer science career skills, at the middle and high school level; creating a language lab at East Shore Middle School, hiring an additional School Resource Officer (SRO), and paying $280,000 more for school busses following last year’s board decision to decrease the distance that students walk to school, thus increasing the number who ride the bus.

The total is about $560,000 for new requests, and Feser said savings will more than make up for that.

Her budget plan calls for cutting $1.67 million in funds that are in the current year’s budget. A big chunk of that — $427,500 — were one-time costs associated with reconfiguring the elementary schools for this current school year.

Additionally, Feser said cutting 9.4 teaching positions, mostly due to declining enrollment, will save $587,500; and reductions in instructional supplies and non-instructional supplies will save $549,102 and $111,047 respectively.

Staff reductions would eliminate nine regular education teaching positions and 3.5 special education staff, including a teacher for the deaf. Feser said that position is no longer needed. While that number doesn’t jive with the 9.4 positions being cut, Feser said that is because the school year started with several more teaching positions than had been budgeted, so that offset the total reduction.

Hiring an additional SRO is contingent on the mayor’s budget plan, which has not been presented yet. The school board and police department split the costs for the school resource officers, so Feser has put $40,000 into her budget plan to pay half the cost. There are four SROs now — one at each high school and two that cover the three middle schools and The Academy.

Feser would like each middle school to have an SRO: she noted that the West Shore SRO visits The Academy, which is the city’s alternate education high school, approximately once a week.

There is another $181,417 in Feser’s proposed budget plan for increased natural gas costs, but that is because of an error in the current budget. “There was a 29.4% increase in the city’s locked-in bid prices that was inadvertently not included in the current 2015-16 budget,” Feser said.

She said the board had to find money elsewhere in the current budget for gas because of the error, and now the error is being corrected with the latest bid price in this budget plan.

“The budget being brought before you is about sustaining the work and programs of the last four years while seeking to continuously improve in how we service students and keep them safe,” Feser wrote in a message to the board.

The board will review the budget plan during upcoming budget review sessions before forwarding a board adopted plan to the Board of Finance. Then the finance board will review the school as well as the city budget plan, before sending its recommendations to the Board of Aldermen for approval. The budget is typically adopted in May.