The South-Western City Schools District Board of Education and administration have vowed to make tax dollars from the November levy last for four years.
To do so, the district will cut about $15 million from its budget in the coming years.
An analysis, released last week, from the Auditor of State says the district can save approximately $2.5 million by making cuts in several areas. The performance audit, which was requested by the district in July 2009, reviewed areas including financial systems, human resources, facilities, transportation, food services and technology.
Employee salaries and benefits make up over 80 percent of the district’s annual budget. In order to slim down on these costs, the audit recommends the district remove or adjust provisions in its bargaining agreements that exceed what similar districts in the area offer.
It also suggests the district continue to work with its health insurance committee to reduce medical and dental insurance costs.
The district has two medical insurance plans (Plan A and Plan B). Last year, Plan A had no deductible for an individual and a $50 deductible for families. The co-payment was $10 under this plan. Plan B had a deductible of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families, with a co-pay of $20.
The district had encouraged a shift in enrollment from Plan A to Plan B by offering employees semi-annual payments of $329 for switching rates. As of January 2010, Plan A included deductibles of $250 for individuals and $500 for families.
The report says the district should focus on bringing monthly premiums in line with State Employment Relation Board (SERB) averages for the Columbus area, enrolling more employees in the lower cost medical plans, and increasing contribution rates for dental and vision insurance.
“We recognize we are higher in our premiums,” said Treasurer Hugh Garside. “We keep implementing changes.”
The performance audit suggests the district reduce maintenance department staffing by over 15 full-time employees. This includes custodians, groundskeepers and maintenance staff. It also advises the district to discontinue employing seasonal maintenance department staff, which costs $85,000.
Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said if South-Western were to implement the cuts, they would have fewer workers taking on more responsibility. He explained this would mean more money for the fewer workers and more overtime costs.
If the district wants to cut costs, it should eliminate nine buses, according to the audit.
Wise said in order to be efficient in this area, the buses should be 80 percent full.
“We have 84-passenger buses,” said Wise. “We’re not getting maximum use.”
The superintendent said if they had 72-passenger buses, they would be efficient.
“It’s not really an issue of efficiency; it’s an issue of size,” Wise said.
Wise also said if the district cut out nine buses, students would be on the bus longer.
“Is that something parents want?”
In the transportation category, the audit also recommends the district eliminate payment in lieu of vacation for bus drivers. A full-time bus driver receives eight vacation days.
The audit says to cut up to 45 hours from its daily food service operations, including reductions in labor hours. It also suggests the district renegotiate salary schedules for food service employees and limit future negotiated wage increases.
The report says the district should discontinue giving vacation pay to nine and 10-month employees (such as cooks and bus drivers), which “represents a hidden salary cost and does not allow for transparent and comparable salary schedules.”
According to the Auditor of State, the way to go is direct deposit.
The report recommends the district require mandatory direct deposit for all employees and long-term substitutes, regardless of the hire date. It also says South-Western should stop issuing paper pay stubs and go electronic.
Garside said direct deposit is an option, but most employees use it.
The audit wants the district to replace technology every five years to improve performance and cut down on repair costs of older machines. It also suggests the district consider implementing a student support program to train students in technical support.
The district would have to spend $700,000 to replace current technology.
The audit did praise South-Western in many areas.
“We were recognized is 43 areas,” said Garside.
The district’s expenditures per pupil were $9336 in fiscal year 2008/09, which was below the state average of $10,184.
The district was also recognized for its special instruction to gifted and English as Second Language students, worker’s compensation premiums, utility costs, and the district’s Web site.
Wise said, “We want to be as efficient as possible,” regarding the audit findings. “We will be aggressive in our efforts for a response plan.”
Garside said, “There are things we need to do better, but we are below average in many areas.”
The administration wants to get community feedback before they act on the audit recommendations. In 1999, the Auditor of State conducted a performance audit on South-Western. Many, but not all, of the recommendations have been implemented.
To review the full report, visit www.auditor.state.oh.us.