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Nearly $9 million in cuts proposed for Arlington schools

ARLINGTON — School administrators outlined about $8.9 million in possible cuts in the 2008-09 operating budget Thursday, hoping to whittle away at a $17.9 million shortfall.

Their suggestions included a 30 percent cut in campus allotments to save about $1.2 million; deferring the purchase of new school buses to a bond issue to save about $1.3 million; and a hiring-review process that could save about $4 million. The hiring review would examine open positions to determine whether the district could continue without making a hire. It would not include teaching positions.

Interim Superintendent Jerry McCullough expressed frustration with the effects of state education funding changes that have effectively frozen district revenue at 2006-07 levels.

Arlington has about 63,000 students.

“These reductions will affect everyone and will be difficult for all,” McCullough said.

The cuts in campus allotments — money for books and other supplies and staff development — will be difficult, he said.

However, he said, “if we want to get our deficit down, this is something we’re going to have to endure.”

The school board could vote on the budget as early as next week; it must be passed by Aug. 31.

A raise this year?

Before the cuts suggested Thursday, expenditures from the district’s general operating fund were expected to be about $428.1 million in 2008-09. Expected revenue is about $410.2 million.

The expenditures being considered do not include a pay raise for employees. Giving them a 3 percent raise would cost $9.4 million, according to administrators.

A teachers group has suggested a 3.61/27 percent raise with an additional 2 percent for staff members making less than $25,000.

Administrators have already cut the 2008-09 budget by about $830,000. To do that, they delayed implementation of full-day classes at the district’s alternative school, eliminated the Effective School Leadership department, which planned for school improvement, and opted not to buy software that analyzes testing data.

Residents’ suggestions

The Thursday night session was called specifically to allow trustees to talk with administrators and review the findings of the Financial Futures Committee, a residents group that met this summer to help trustees mold the budget.

The administration’s suggestions for $8.9 million in cuts included about $1.5 million in reductions pointed out by the committee. Those included a 5 percent cut in department budgets and the deferment of some capital items such as maintenance vehicles.

The district has about $3.8 million from gas well leases that it has placed in a special revenue fund and expects to get about $14 million more in the next few months, administrators said. Trustee Wayne Ogle said the board may have to consider using that money.

“We may just have to use it to make ends meet and keep the boat floating,” he said.

Other cuts suggested by administrators Thursday night included:

Reducing maintenance overtime to save $400,000.

Deferring the purchase of items such as musical instruments and cafeteria tables to a bond issue to save $517,567.

Additional department cuts of $350,000.

Traci Shurley, 817-548-5494

By the numbers

$428.1 million: General operating fund expenditures in 2008-09 budget.

$17.9 million: Preliminary shortfall in 2008-09 budget. Does not include employee raises or the cuts suggested by administrators Thursday night.

$64.8 million: Amount expected to be in the reserve fund Aug. 31, 2009, if the budget is passed.

$72 million: The fund balance recommended by credit-rating agencies for a school district Arlington’s size.

Source: Arlington school district