On the one hand is the Legislature, which made education a funding priority this year but didn’t have all that much money to divvy up to begin with.
On the other hand are the teachers, who have gone three years without a cost of living increase, have two extra students in each classroom, on average, and need to make enough to support their families.
In the middle are officials at the Davis School District, who are “very grateful to the Legislature and very appreciative of the teachers,” but still find the loss of $61 million over the past two years and an estimated $7 million this year, will make the task at hand extremely difficult.
Already, meetings are being held with employees, community councils, school clusters and board members, and “every option has been discussed,” said Craig Poll, assistant superintendent, whether it affects travel, utilities, programs, staffing, insurance or tax increases.
“We don’t know where to cut anymore,” said Susan Firmage, president of the Davis Education Association, of the many issues facing the district in the budget negotiations.
“We feel like we’ve already cut to the bone,” said Chris Williams, community relations director for the district. “We still have to look at trimming our budget to make ends meet.”
The first proposals coming from the legislature would have resulted in a loss of $5.5 million to the district.
“Our legislative team consulted with us a lot and solicited our input,” said Craig Carter, business
administrator for the district, who was especially complimentary of House representatives. “Our Davis County team did a remarkable job. They went back and changed some things that improved (the situation) dramatically.”
Still, with some increased funding going for special education students and other funding for career and technical education programs, the net result of the legislation added only about $2.3 million to the unrestricted funds for the district.
At the same time, there are about $12.5 million more in cost obligations anticipated in the coming year, including $1.1 million for the new Centennial Junior High, $3 million from adding days that were furloughed last year but can’t be this year,
$5.2 million in increased retirement payments required by the Utah Retirement Board and increased insurance costs. Pay raises for teachers who have obtained longevity or additional credit hours or degrees, known as step and lane changes, could also add to costs.
An additional 900 students are anticipated for the coming school year as well and increased energy costs could add another half-million dollars in expenses, as they did during the last spike in oil.
“If we were staffing the same way as we did in 2008, there would be 175 more teachers in schools,” said Poll. Classroom sizes have increased on the average of one student per classroom for each of the past two years and now some sixth grade classrooms have 36 students while classes in secondary schools might have up to 40.
Though larger class sizes have put off the need for a new elementary school or more portable classrooms, they do take their toll, Poll said.
“We keep doing well with less and so people think we can continue, but we’re stretching our resources. Our teachers are working hard. We’re at the point where there isn’t anything we can cut that doesn’t really hurt the classroom.”
“When 90 percent of the total budget is people-related expenses, it’s hard to make it work without impacting people,” said Carter.
Cost of living increases haven’t been offered for three years and with furlough days and the increased cost of insurance, teachers’ salaries have, in fact, gone down, he said.
Firmage was equally concerned. “Our administrators have been cut, our teachers have been cut, our class sizes increased, we have furlough days, we’re not close to where we were in 2008,” she said, “but we’re hopeful that we can just continue to pull out of this. We have great leadership in the district and here in the association, we have great teachers and great employees district-wide and hopefully we can weather these tough times.”
Final budget numbers are expected to be presented to the school board in June, with the expectation that the budget will be finalized by June 22.