Auditor says district should make more cuts
More cuts could be on the horizon in South-Western City Schools if district leaders take the state auditor’s advice.
At the March 8 board of education meeting, Deputy Superintendent Phil Warner said, “It is the district’s intent to aggressively pursue the implementation” of the audit results.
Last August, during the levy campaign, the board of education and administration requested a performance audit by the state. Last month, audit results were released. The Auditor of State said the district could save about $3.2 million by making changes in human resources, facilities, transportation, food service, technology and financial systems.
The audit suggested the district remove or adjust provisions in its bargaining agreements that exceed what similar districts in the area offer. It also said the district should work with its health insurance committee to reduce medical and dental insurance costs.
According to audit results, the district could save $1.4 million by adjusting employee’s medical coverage. It could save $588,000 on its dental plan.
“This is being considered as we prepare for negotiations this spring,” said Warner.
Employee salaries and benefits make-up over 80 percent of the district’s budget.
The audit says the district could save about $677,000 by cutting the maintenance staff by 15.5 full-time employees. It could also save $84,000 if the district would stop employing seasonal maintenance workers.
Cindy Legue, with the watchdog group Excellence for South-Western Schools, said she is disappointed that the audit suggests cutting some of the lowest paid employees in the district.
“The savings should come from those who make more,” said Legue.
According to the audit, the district could save $305,000 by reducing at least nine active buses plus some routes.
Warner said he has spoken with Tim Cox, transportation supervisor, on ways to trim costs. One idea was excluding high school juniors and seniors from the ridership list.
“We are not eliminating juniors and seniors,” said Warner.
The deputy superintendent said most students in that age group drive to school. If they needed a ride, they could contact the district and one would be provided.
Warner said the district will also review purchasing 72-passenger buses, instead of 84-passenger buses.
The audit also says the district should eliminate payment in lieu of vacation for bus drivers and re-evaluate their salaries.
Cox will present a report on ways to trim the transportation budget at the March 22 school board meeting.
If the district would reduce 45.5 hours from the daily food service operation, it would save $168,000.
“I don’t know if we can get 45 hours,” said Warner. “We don’t want to limit services to our students or funds to food service.”
In addition to reducing hours, the audit suggests the district renegotiate salaries for food service employees. Warner said he is working with the food service supervisor to cut costs.
The audit report says the district should require mandatory direct deposit for all employees.
Warner said this is in the planning stage and he hopes to have this in place in the spring of this year. Currently, direct deposit is an option.
The report also suggests the district create an internal auditor position to review operations and programs. Warner said this issue needs further study as it would be an additional cost to the taxpayers.
The audit suggests the district spend $700,000 for new or updated technology. It recommended a five-year replacement cycle for technology.
Superintendent Bill Wise said, “It is not in our best interest to more forward on this.”
Wise said with the uncertainties facing the state education funding, he believes the district should hold off.
Wise said the district has submitted a statement to the Auditor of State saying the district plans to implement the recommendations.
“Overall we’re real pleased,” said Wise. “It allows us to become more efficient.”
The district would like to have most of the changes made before the end of 2011.
“The faster we act, the better opportunity to compact savings,” said Wise.
The board of education told voters they would make their tax dollars last for four years. To do that, the district will cut about $15 million from its budget over the next few years.