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The belt gets tighter

PRINCETON — The Princeton Elementary School District could look quite a bit different in the next couple years if the school board goes ahead with some cost-saving measures discussed at this week’s meeting.

Those cost-savings measures could include not replacing some retiring teachers, increasing class sizes and possibly closing a school building.

In explaining the need for cost-savings measures at Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Tim Smith said he is projecting an estimated $1.6 million deficit in the education fund for the current 2013 fiscal year. The district has budgeted a $1.6 million transfer from the working cash fund into the education fund to cover the deficit. The building fund is projected to end the year with an estimated $83,000 deficit, and the transportation fund could have an estimated $40,000 deficit.

PES is also facing some outstanding issues which could greatly impact the finances of the district, Smith said. Those issues include the potential costs of pension reform, the new health care law and the new PARRC assessment program. Those numbers are still out there and are an unknown as to their impact on the district, he said.

To capture needed savings for the district, there are several measures which could be taken to cut expenses in the education, building and transportation funds, Smith said.

One measure would be to diminish the number of class sections during the next two years, Smith said. The district can’t afford to keep its current class sizes, which now average about 23 or 25 students, depending on the grade level. That number could go up to an average of 27 or 28 students per class. He hopes to keep class sizes under 30 students, but things could get worse, Smith said.

When asked if those larger classes would have a teacher’s aide, Smith said he couldn’t say if that would be a recommendation at this time. In those larger classes, four or five students could be out of the classroom at times for specialized services, he said.

Another cost-savings measure would be in the music department, Smith said. The music program would not be cut, but less time could be given to it, which would result in one fewer music teacher, Smith said.

Looking at potential savings which come through retiring teachers, Smith said there will be 13 retirements in the next couple years, and there is the potential consideration of not filling eight to 10 of those positions. The estimated savings to the district, by not replacing those retiring teachers, would be $400,000 in the first year and $600,000 in the second year.

To capture savings in the education fund is accomplished primarily through personnel, Smith said. The district is budgeting the same amount in supplies as it did 15 years ago and has seen cuts in technology spending, he said.

One possible revenue-building step would be to implement a $50 technology fee for students which would be in addition to the regular $40 book rental fee, Smith said.

Looking at the building fund, Smith said the district has to become more efficient in its building use. The board will need to look at the various school buildings and whether the district needs all its current sites, as well as the number of staff at each site. If the district downsizes, it could mean a reduction in its bus fleet.

It is a tough decision to downsize the number of buildings, but it could be needed, Smith said. Any closing of a building, if the board approved the action, would not take place with the 2013-14 school year.

After Smith’s presentation, board member Steve Bouslog requested Smith come back to the board’s May 20 meeting with formal recommendations for board consideration. The board needs to start looking at these possibilities, though he may not be ready to take action on any recommendations at the May meeting, Bouslog said.

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