District eyes cuts, transportation fees

Urbana budget deficit could also result in closure of one school building.

Urbana City School board members are reviewing about $650,000 in potential cuts and possibly closing a school building as part of $1 million in spending reductions by the 2013-2014 school year.

The proposed cuts would touch everything from field trips and transportation to freshman athletics. The district is trying to slash as much spending as possible before the cuts begin to require layoffs or affect students negatively, said Charles Thiel, superintendent for the district.

“We’ve tried to get as much of the $1 million we need without impacting people’s jobs,” Thiel said.

The board could have a clear picture of the final cuts by its March 19 board meeting. If the district eliminates positions as part of the budget cuts, staff members must be notified by mid-April.

Among the proposed cuts, Thiel said the district will likely not replace a vacant position for an elementary school principal, saving about $72,000. If the district elects not to close a school building, it could mean three principals would be responsible for covering four buildings. A high school science teacher position could also be left vacant by the end of the year, saving an additional $50,000.

The district could also save an additional $82,000 by making some cuts in sports, including supplemental positions for freshman volleyball, freshman boys and girls basketball and an assistant football coach.

Students could also be asked to pay an annual $100 fee that would help cover the costs of transportation to sporting events. The district typically pays between $42,000 and $52,000 annually for transportation for those events, and about 370 students participate each year.

While it would not cover the whole cost, the $37,000 that would be raised could help the district save money while not placing too much of the burden on students and their families. Thiel said the district had considered implementing a pay to participate fee for sports, but those costs would be difficult for local families to afford. The transportation fee was something most board members could agree on.

“For us to ask our parents to foot the whole bill, we might as well eliminate sports,” Thiel said of the pay to participate fees.

Cuts to supplemental contracts, including student advisers and department chair positions, could save as much as $138,000. Another $80,000 could be saved in transportation costs by consolidating bus routes and implementing a transportation fee for extra-curricular activities like band and choir. The district could also eliminate field trips this spring and in the 2013-2014 school year and reduce building budgets by 25 percent, saving an additional $33,000.

Even with the proposed $650,000 in cuts, the district would have to find additional revenue to reach its $1 million goal. But Thiel said he is optimistic that more cuts can be made before staff positions are eliminated.

The district is also considering closing Local Intermediate or South Elementary School, but both schools could remain open. Each of the options has some drawbacks.

For example, closing Local Intermediate could save the district as much as $250,000 annually, but it would also mean all other district buildings would be filled to capacity, and two modular buildings would have to be moved to South Elementary at a cost to the district of $80,000.

Closing South Elementary would not require moving modular buildings, but it would mean Local Intermediate would remain open and most other district building classrooms would be at or near their capacity.

The district is also considering other options that would use Local Intermediate for pre-kindergarten classes, but would also require purchasing additional modular units at South Elementary.

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