In Other News

Sedona-Oak Creek School District officials are searching for savings that would enable the district to increase salaries in next year’s budget.

“I want our school district to have the most competitive salary schedule,” Superintendent David Lykins told the SOCSD Governing Board when he presented the budget Feb. 7.

Last year, when Proposition 123 passed, the district used all the funds it received to boost salaries, which historically had been lower than other districts.

Under the proposed 2017-18 budget, a teacher’s starting salary would be $33,178.

The proposed budget shows a deficit of $332,100, but Lykins characterized the district’s financial situation as “better this year than in the past. We’re in good shape.”

In addition to the across-the-board salary increases totalling $108,400, the shortfall is the result of an estimated $62,000 bump in health insurance costs as well as the loss of $161,700 in state funding due to declining enrollment.

Since the school board meeting, however, Lykins and Finance Director Lynn Leonard said Feb. 16 they may have found savings that would reduce the deficit by nearly 20 percent by possibly eliminating the health insurance increase, which was actually escalating beyond the 7 percent  rise in the preliminary budget to 10 percent.

The savings came by way of a decision by the Arizona Public Employers Health Pool disbanding its current insurance pool and establishing another, larger, pool that would likely erase the expected increase, said Lykins, who is vice president for the APEHP’s board of trustees. SOCSD may also find further savings “because we can mitigate and navigate escalating medical expenses,” he added.

The total maintenance and operations budget is $6.6 million, down from the current year’s $6.8 million.

The two revenue streams that comprise the M&O budget are the state-funded revenue control limit and the voter-approved override. The RCL is expected to be $5.8 million for 2017-18, while the latter will be $865,001.

Historically, the RCL was based on the previous year’s 100th-day average daily membership, which basically reflects enrollment. For the 2017-18 budget, it will be based on the current-year 100th-day ADM, which will be on Jan. 18, about halfway through the school year.

“ADM drives funding,” Leonard said. “Everything’s formula-driven. We have no control over how much we get.”

Anticipating next year’s 100th-day ADM is one of the challenges facing the district in preparing the budget. Leonard said, “It’s our best guess based on trends.”

Lykins added, “It’s like buying the groceries without knowing how many people will be sitting down to dinner.”

The budget must be finalized and approved by the SOCSD Governing Board by the first week in April, when the district issues employee contract offers for the next school year.

The budget would get a final revision based on how many signed contracts are returned. The board would vote to adopt the budget at its meeting on July 11.

Lykins said the next five to six weeks will be key as district staff works with school administrators and teachers to find efficiencies in operations to close the budgetary gap. Within that time frame is a series of meetings and work sessions.

“We have to be creative to attack the deficit,” Lykins said.

Typically, the creativity comes into play when administrators figure out how to adjust staffing to deal with student attrition.

Lykins emphasized that the schools would not be cutting education programs.

In addition to “instructional improvements,” the district hopes to add revenue from facilities rentals, as well as reducing mid-year hires, according to the recent presentation to the governing board.

In regard to attrition, both Leonard and Lykins noted that students aren’t necessarily leaving the district.

“We’re not losing them, they’re graduating,” the superintendent said, with Leonard adding that fewer are entering the district at the kindergarten level.

The primary reasons are that the Sedona population skews older and that younger families find the cost of housing prohibitive.

Both officials were optimistic that they, working closely with each school’s leaders, as well as teachers, staff and students’ parents, would be able to find the funds to offset the salary increases.

“All input is valued,” Lykins said. “These are people who are passionate about education.”


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