The Baker School District has a $2.15 million problem, and the solution is going to hurt.
The pain will be widespread.
Some teachers and other employees likely will lose their jobs as a result of the district balancing its budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Some property owners in the district will pay more in taxes if the school board puts a local option levy on the May 17 ballot and voters approve it.
If the board switches to a four-day week for the next school year,
families will suffer as they're forced to pay someone to look after
their kids one day per week.
The challenge for the school board - and it's a considerable one - is to minimize the harm done to students.
We were disappointed, then, that the cost-cutting priorities in the
"cabinet report," which the board approved last week, don't include one
option that would have no effect on students save the positive effect
of sparing some of their teachers' jobs.
That option is to try to negotiate across-the-board and equal cuts in
compensation for both teachers and classified staff (each group is
represented by a different union), and to impose such cuts for
administrators and other non-union employees.
This is not an ideal option.
In fact it's a bad one.
We don't want to see anybody's wages and benefits go down. That siphons
money from the local economy, and businesses make no distinction
between customers who draw a public paycheck rather than a private one.
But with a $2.15 million hole to fill, the school district is well past
the point where it has the luxury of choosing between the good options
and the bad.
Because personnel costs are the biggest expense for the district -
about 70 percent of the $16 million general fund - it's impossible to
balance the budget without reducing the personnel bill.
Even if voters approve a local option tax levy - and we suspect that's a longshot - the basic equation would remain.
The tax levy would raise an estimated $725,700 per year, leaving the district $1.42 million short.
There are of course myriad ways to save that money.
We hope, though, that both the school board and administrators, as they
confront that ticklish task, share one overriding goal: To cut as few
jobs as possible and, as a result, have the smallest possible effect on
students as well as the workforce.
Yet in our estimation the cabinet report the board approved last week
fails to accomplish that goal because it doesn't include the option of
district-wide compensation cuts that would save jobs.
Mike Ogan, a local resident who is a member of a task force that
presented a list of suggestions to the district, recommends an
across-the-board pay cut of 12 percent, which would save an estimated
$1.2 million to $1.6 million.
That's a deeper cut than we can endorse.
We prefer a plan that calls for trimming all employees' overall
compensation through a combination of reducing medical insurance
allowances and PERS contributions as well as a pay cut.
The district's goal ought to be to spread the pain of this budget
shortfall as widely and as equitably as can be done. Requiring every
employee, union and non-union alike, to give up the same percentage of
benefits would do that.
Unfortunately, that tactic, even combined with switching to a four-day
week, probably wouldn't save the district enough money to avoid layoffs
Then, too, there is no guarantee that the two unions would concede to a request for across-the-board cuts.
(Although in that case we would eagerly await union officials'
explanation for why they would sacrifice members' jobs rather than have
everyone make modest concessions in their compensation.)
Nonetheless, we believe the school board has a responsibility to the
students it serves to strive to treat every employee as precious.
It's fashionable, in difficult times such as this, to say that we're looking out for "the kids."
But that platitude rings hollow when teachers and other school employees get pink slips that needn't have been written.