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D91 approves $4.3M in budget reductions

An Idaho Falls teacher presents her concerns about the budget to the District 91 school board on Wednesday. | David Pace,
IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Falls School District 91 Board of Trustees voted unanimously to implement $4,325,190 in budget cuts Wednesday evening after an intense six-hour meeting at the district office with public comment from teachers, parents and students.
“There is nothing in here that is not needed. The problem here is that we are underfunded,” said Idaho Falls School District 91 Superintendent Karla LaOrange. “There’s just difficult decisions.”
District 91 has experienced $4 million in deficit spending over the last two years at a rate that is unsustainable and has significantly reduced its reserve funds.
Both LaOrange and Director of Finance Lanell Farmer started this fiscal year (which starts in June for the district) and inherited the budgetary situation.
“I do feel bad for Karla and Lanell because they’ve had to answer questions on a budget they’ve had nothing to do with,” Trustee Paul Haacke said.
RELATED | Righting D91’s budget ship: District seeks online input on $4M in cuts
Originally, $4.9 million in cuts were proposed on Wednesday, but ultimately, the $4.3 million amount was adopted. You can see the list of all proposed cuts originally being considered by District 91’s Board of Trustees here.
Nevertheless, emotions ran high as more than 60 educators, employees and patrons packed into the board’s meeting room, filling the overflow. Fourteen people addressed the board during public comment and 21 written comments were submitted before the meeting — the vast majority of which expressed frustration and anger with the proposed budget changes. You can watch the full meeting and public comments here.
Idaho Falls Education Association President Julie Nawrocki said teachers did not have adequate opportunity to participate in the discussion about the budget cuts.
She said school district teachers and staff were not informed about how to participate in the district’s “Thought Exchange” online portal to discuss the proposed reductions. They received two days’ advanced notice for one of the district public budget input meetings in March.
School officials replied that any miscommunication was not intentional.
“When I talk to staff, what I hear is, ‘What is best for students?’” Nawrocki said. “I know these are hard choices, but are these choices presented before you in the best interest of your goals for our students?”
No teachers in the district will be losing their jobs. Although the cuts include 20 full-time personnel, these positions will simply remain unfilled after regular attrition. The district anticipates still needing to hire teachers for the fall, and the overall reduction in full-time employees will save $1.5 million.
Other notable cuts include $150,000 in leadership stipends, $500,000 in school supplies, $746,397 in one-time payments to employees, $328,182 reducing elementary assistant principals based on enrollment and student needs, $67,405 eliminating health techs and $63,974 for English language funding beyond what the district receives from the federal and state government.
The board initially intended to eliminate one counselor at each high school and middle school (four total) and two of the following from each high school (four total): dean of students, graduation advocates, and college and career advisors, saving a combined $700,648.
However, after receiving input from principals, teachers and the public, the board determined to discuss each line item one by one to determine whether it should be included in the reduction.
Ultimately, they made several exemptions to the original cuts based on the feedback they’d received:

Reduce elementary assistant principals by three (not four).
Keep iReady, an online learning platform, but evaluate it for next year.
Allow high school principals to choose to keep two of the four — high school counselor, dean of students, graduation advocate or a college and career advisor.
Each middle school will keep either a counselor position or a student success advocate.
Reduce one clerical position at Idaho Falls High School/Taylorview Middle School and Skyline High School/Eagle Rock Middle School.

Earlier in the meeting several teachers, patrons and school board members discussed the likelihood that the district’s revenues could come in as much as $2 million higher than what has been budgeted.
“If there’s additional revenue there of maybe a couple million dollars that we weren’t expecting, how does that impact our cuts, and how does that impact some of those decisions when we have roughly maybe $2 million that we weren’t expecting initially?” Haacke asked.
But other board members said they couldn’t make budgeting decisions on projected revenues when there’s no way to know how much money will be coming in the future.
Farmer said that if the district receives excess funds above what it had budgeted, she recommends they be allocated to the board’s goal of $11 million in reserve funds.
However, many of the teachers present took exception to the idea that the district would build up its reserves at a time of personnel cuts and general budget belt tightening.
Farmer responded that an adequate reserve is necessary for the district to pay for many of its bills that are not reimbursed until later by the state or federal government.
Trustee Jeremy Westwood expressed hope that some of the division between teachers and the school district can be healed.
“I do think that relationship needs to be mended. I think that there needs to be open arms, understanding, grace on both sides,” he said. “I know it was a super hard position. Let’s move forward what’s best for District 91.”
The post D91 approves $4.3M in budget reductions appeared first on East Idaho News.

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