RIDGWAY — Salaries and benefits continue to eat up a large share of the Ridgway Area School District’s budget, despite shrinking employee ranks.
The overall district budget being crafted for the 2019-20 fiscal year is comparable in size to the current year’s, but that’s a result of decreased expenses in other areas and cost containment efforts.
The current budget’s expenditures totaled $13,518,319, while the proposal being worked on for the coming year currently stands at $13,682,891 – an increase of $164,572. But there’s some difference in what makes up those totals.
Salary and wage totals for the coming year increased $236,053, but salaries in a number of areas have decreased.
Para-educator and maintenance and custodial staff salaries have both decreased, a total of $186,274 combined.
Meanwhile, cafeteria employee salaries have disappeared as a result of a decision late last year to outsource food services. That resulted in salary and wage cost decrease of $169,905.
The resulting $356,179 in total decreases is offset by $592,232 in salary and wage cost increases elsewhere. The bulk of that, $517,342, will go to professional staff salaries.
Meanwhile, after years of rapid increase, benefit costs have largely leveled, accounting for only $20,971 more in expenses in the working proposal.
The trend isn’t a new one, though in past increases have largely been attributable to higher costs for benefits, which have taken up a larger percentage of staffing costs over time.
The total number of district employees, outside of the reduction from the food services decision, has also been shrinking over time, largely through attrition.
Since the 2012-13 budget year, total salary and benefit costs have risen from $8,669,249 to a projected $11,031,257 for the 2019-20 year, representing a $2,362,008 increase overall.
Salaries alone in 2012-13 were $6,049,260 and are projected to be $6,137,382 in 2019-20, representing only a $88,122 increase. However, benefit costs in 2012-13 were $2,619,989 and are projected to be $4,893,975 in the 2019-20 year, representing a $2,273,986 increase.
In other words, over 96 percent of total salary and benefit costs since 2012-13 have been a result of increased benefit costs.
For comparison, in 2012-13, benefits accounted for just over 30 percent of total personnel costs. In 2019-20, they are expected to account for just over 44 percent.
On an overall budget level, the total cost of salaries and benefits accounts for approximately 81 percent of all projected district expenditures in the current working draft budget proposal for the upcoming year.
Beyond reducing staff sizes and offsetting expenses elsewhere, there is little the district can do about the situation. Salary and benefit costs for the bulk of school employees are determined through negotiation of collective bargaining agreements, state-mandated retirement contributions and insurance cost increases.