Unhappy school media specialists might be on chopping block? School district officials wrestle with other potential budget cuts.

Putnam County School District leaders say they are trying to avoid “catastrophic” budget reductions by planning ahead with proposed 2017-2018 budget cuts. 

A proposal to eliminate media specialists’ positions was the topic of discussion during Tuesday’s school board meeting, but Assistant Superintendent for Finance Rhonda Odom said more cuts would be needed if state funding decreases.

Although the state Legislative session began only Tuesday, Odom and Superintendent Rick Surrency said school districts are already hearing the state budget would likely include a 1 percent increase in funding for districts during the upcoming school year.

“It’s roughly what we received last year,” Odom said during a finance workshop Tuesday. 

For Putnam school district’s financial condition to “hold steady” despite increasing costs during the upcoming school year, Odom said, it would need a $500,000 influx in revenue or reduction of spending.

Additionally, Odom said, state officials are expecting a $1.3 billion budget deficit in 2018-2019 and a $1.9 billion budget deficit in 2019-2020.

“We’ve all got to be prepared and lay the groundwork,” she said. “It is a nightmare if you have to go through catastrophic budget reductions.”

Earlier this week, Odom said, district leaders challenged school principals and department leaders to develop a plan to cut 10 percent of their budgets in two exercises. 

The first exercise, creating a 10 percent budget cut including salary and utility costs, would save the district $7 million, Odom said. 

The second exercise, creating a 10 percent budget cut not including salaries and utilities, would save the district $486,000, Odom said.  

While the 10 percent cuts are not likely, Odom said, the exercise would prepare the school and department leaders for potential cuts in the coming years. 

As a team, Odom said, district leaders came up with six proposals presented Tuesday to save money during the upcoming school year, while preparing for potential budget cuts in coming years. 

* Media specialist allocations replaced with paraprofessionals, a savings of $382,000. 

Odom said current media specialists would have the option to take a teaching position while keeping their current pay. Surrency said principals could choose to not hire a paraprofessional and use the media specialist/teacher in the library for a portion of the day. 

* Cut unfunded reading coaches, a savings of $555,000.

Odom said the district is spending double what is covered for reading coaches through a reading grant. 

* Save $125,000 in the district’s police department.

If the district doesn’t fill a recently vacated position in the police department and doesn’t fill a position that will be vacant after a retirement at the end of the year, Odom said, it will save $125,000. Surrency said the department would remain intact with one officer remaining. 

* Cut unfunded school resource officers, a savings of $103,393.

Odom said safe schools funding would cover the cost for Putnam County Sheriff’s Office school resource officers if two school resource officer positions were eliminated. 

* Shut down the week of July 4 and the week of Christmas, saving $150,000

The shutdowns would force 12-month employees to take three vacation days during the week of July 4 and Christmas, Odom said, but the district would have a savings in utility costs. 

“It’s surprising, but we’d save that much money,” Odom said. 

ν A 5 percent district-wide reduction in discretionary spending, saving $243,246.

Odom said district departments spend about 69 percent of the district’s discretionary budget. 

“We talked about many other cost-saving measures,” Odom said. “We talked about a lot of unpleasant things.”

Odom said the proposed budget cuts would put aside about $1.5 million for automatic raises July 1 after the state’s 1 percent increase in funding, cover the $500,000 the district needs to “hold steady,” and add a percentage point to help prepare for the future.

The Putnam County School District budget is considered by the school board. Board members will have another budget workshop at 5 p.m. March 21.

Palatka Daily News

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