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Tough times, tough decisions

PRINCETON — The financial picture is bleak for the Princeton Elementary School District and getting bleaker, according to PES Superintendent Tim Smith.

The PES Board met in special session Monday evening to hear an update from Smith on the growing financial needs within the district and what can be done about it.

On Tuesday, Smith said the purpose of Monday’s committee-as-a-whole meeting was to “put everything out on the table” concerning the district’s financial condition. The problem of failed revenue for the district is something he’s talked about for months, and things aren’t getting better, he said.

Smith said the primary problem is state funding, or rather the lack of it. Since 2008, PES has lost $2.7 million in general state aid and state grants. Not only is the state late in its payments, which is a problem in itself, but the amount received from the state when the payments are received is reduced from what the district has received in earlier years.

If things play out as it could on the state level, PES could lose another $240,000 in general state aid next year.

In addition to the problem of reduced state aid, local property tax revenue has also dropped, Smith said. Though the substantial cause of the drop for this year was the removal of Perry Memorial Hospital from the tax rolls, Smith said local property taxes have basically flat-lined for the last couple years, basically showing no growth other than in farmland.

As he told the school board at Monday’s meeting, Smith said there have been other outstanding issues, like pending pension reform, the new health care law, and the PARCC test assessments, which also make it hard for the district to plan ahead.

In addition, special education continues to be a financial strain because of increasing mandates and a lack of reimbursements for those mandates, Smith said, adding another concern is continuing cuts to transportation funding from the state.

Several cost-saving measures have already been made in recent years. The number of administrators in the district has been cut in half since he began as principal. The Junior First program has been cut. Some certified and non-certified staff have not been replaced when they retired. There have been cuts in technology expenditures, text book purchases and testing costs.

Looking ahead to next year, Smith said he wants to have a planned approach to capture savings for the district. The board will need to look at building use and the transportation program. The board will need to consider replacing retiring teachers with less expensive new teachers or not replacing the retirees at all.

However, not replacing retiring teachers would result in fewer class sections and higher enrollments in each class. That situation, with fewer sections and larger class enrollments, is something that is coming to PES, he said.

The school board has some tough decisions ahead of it, Smith said.

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