RIMERSBURG – Efforts by Union School District officials to cut costs proved fruitful last week as the district’s budget deficit was cut by more than $100,000.

But despite the success at their work session on May 9, school directors said they still had work to do before the district’s 2019-2020 budget is adopted next month.

The budget portion of the work session was led by newly appointed school board member Brenda Brinker, who presented the board with a number of options and scenarios for spending cuts that she developed alongside the district’s administrators.

She noted that while she was presenting a number of options for discussion, she would, in fact, not support a number of the proposals.

“We have to educate the children,” she said.

Faced with a budget deficit of $1.1 million, the board members on hand went line-by-line through the options, deciding to keep many of the proposed spending cuts, while agreeing to others.

Among the items the board agreed to cut were some of the proposed sports uniform purchases, as well as the bulk of the athletic equipment purchases. Members decided to drop that number from roughly $30,000 to around $10,000 for next year.

Citing programs offered by the Riverview Intermediate Unit, board members also decided to save $8,270 by cutting the summer driver education program, and to save roughly $12,000 by reducing the number of new Chromebook purchases for students.

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Board members also agreed to cut the two weight room coaches at the high school, saving $4,600, as well as second assistant coaches for the baseball and football teams, and the third assistant coach for the varsity football team.

Moving on to personnel, board members said they wanted to avoid furloughing staff if at all possible, but a planned retirement by the special education secretary prompted a discussion about eliminating that position and moving those duties to the district’s other secretaries, which would save more than $56,000.

The board also considered reducing one physical education teaching position to part-time, as well as reducing the number of hours for the district’s speech pathologist.

Members also seemed to favor eliminating the cost the district pays to the Intermediate Unit for a special education supervisor, and to look into making those duties part of the high school principal position.

Proposed cuts that were not supported included the elimination of the Summer Academy and summer food program, which board members decided to keep, as well as as the elimination of one of the district’s three school resource officer positions.

Brinker said that unless other security measures were first improved, she would not support cutting one of the school resource officer (SRO) positions. However, board member Brade Guntrum said that the district should cut an SRO position before it would look at cutting any teachers.

In total, four elementary teaching positions were proposed to be cut, but board members said they did not want to entertain those options until retirement incentives and other possibilities were considered.

In the end, officials said the meeting produced about $120,000 in proposed spending cuts. However, the board is also looking at adding about $20,000 into the budget to replace the public address system at the high school which is not working.

Members also said they felt that a property tax increase would also be needed to help with the budget problem, as well as to show the state that the district is making all efforts to balance its budget.

“It’s a good starting point and opens up discussions,” board president Terry Rush said at the end of the budget workshop. “We knew we weren’t going to balance.”

Officials said they are also looking at other cost savings when it comes to transportation costs, and the possibility of bringing back to the school district some of the students who are now being schooled elsewhere or who are being cyber schooled.

With a number of spending cuts already set up for next year, officials said they needed to begin work in July on the 2020-2021 budget, and the possibility of closing one of the district’s two elementary schools.

“If we close a school, we’re going to be looking at some serious things,” Brinker said.

The school board will meet this Thursday for its regular May meeting where it is expected to give preliminary approval to the 2019-2020 budget. Final adoption of the spending plan is expected before the end of June.

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