Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Governor's Proposed Education Budget

The proposed Governor’s budget is a shock to the education community. Funding for public education is not a top priority ( to say the least). Ridgway Area School District is being affected by the resulting lower amount of State aid that is available to the school districts. I will discuss some of the bleak numbers in this blog post, but I will also discuss areas of opportunities that I believe are available to our schools and community.

The school district has been preparing for the day when less money is available for two years. We have watched the State funding for education being supported by Federal stimulus money for the last two budget cycles. Knowing that the federal money was going to go away in two years, we started to prepare for lower State funding in the 2011-2012 school year. As I have mentioned before, the school district has offered an early retirement option for all employees. 10% of our employees took advantage of the incentive with a resulting savings of over 2 million dollars over five years. The preliminary budget for the school district that was passed in January also assumed State Basic Education Funding (BEF) at the 2008-2009 school year. In addition, the budget also included $331,000.00 in budget cuts (2.1% from previous year). In other words, this was a very conservative budget that did not include any “frills”. We were also not under any delusions that the type of funding that education enjoyed in the previous years was going to continue.

Having said all of that, the Governor’s proposed budget cut a little deeper than we anticipated. State funding for education is at the 2007-2008 funding levels (not the 2008-09 level the school district budgeted). The proposal also eliminates various grants and other programs that the school district included in the preliminary budget. The addition of these new cuts created an additional $345,000 that needs to be cut from the budget. The School Board and the administration will work to make these further cuts. When you add the total that was already cut, with the total that must be cut further, then the school district's budget is $676,000 less than in the previous year (a 5% decrease). I am not panicked about these numbers. Cutting more is going to force the school district to make some uncomfortable decisions, but they will not be devastating cuts. There are other school districts and government entities that are worse off than we are. We will strive to keep the public informed of these decisions. Again, the school district is in better shape than most because of the fiscal constraint that the district has operated under for the past 20 years or so. The district also has no debt which allows flexibility in financial matters.

But all is not gloom in the school district. I am so confident in the ability of our school district to thrive in the upcoming years. We have laid a solid foundation that will serve as a starting point for great opportunities for our students. I see no reason that RASD cannot become one of the top 10 school districts in the State (if not the best school district in the State). As results from our recent school district celebration attest, our students have the resources and support needed to accomplish whatever their post secondary goals may include. The school district will have to become more focused over the next few years as support for public education at the state policy level dwindles. However, a continued, laser focus on our core mission will lead the school district to become an elite school district within the next four years. Please join us with your support and encouragement as we continue down the path toward become the best!

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