Press-Republican

March 18, 2013

PCSD searching for $1.3 million savings

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PERU — Peru Central School is struggling to reduce $1.3 million from its 2013-14 spending plan.

District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Brimstein will present the School Board with recommended reductions at its next meeting; however, he said at this week’s meeting, “I’m not at the number I need to be at.”

In addition to cutting costs, PCSD has also proposed using $1.3 million in reserves to bridge its budget gap, which is a result of restricted revenues, increasing state mandates and rising expenses, Brimstein said.

Last month, Peru Central announced it anticipated receiving about $20,000 less state aid next school year than in 2012-13.

“We’re asked to do more, we’re given less, and our costs go up,” Brimstein said at the meeting.

The superintendent also noted that, though the school’s tax-levy limit was first calculated at 2.34 percent, an exclusion in the levy-limit formula related to rising costs of Teacher Retirement System contributions has allowed the district a limit of 4.32 percent.

Still, he said, “we have to determine what the community is willing to bear.”

SHARED COSTS

PCSD is committed to providing quality education at a sustainable cost, according to Brimstein, and is aggressively exploring ways to operate more efficiently, including trying to develop strategic partnerships.

For example, he noted, the district recently agreed to share maintenance costs for the Town of Peru’s fuel station — in exchange, school buses can gas up there. The town will charge less for fuel than the school pays now, and Peru Central will forgo maintenance to its own fuel facility.

The district is also considering offering an early-retirement incentive to eligible Civil Service Employee Association and Peru Association of Teachers members.

In addition, Brimstein said, PCSD is comprehensively reviewing its K through 12 programs, examining staffing needs and searching for opportunities to eliminate redundancies.

“We’re looking at ways to combine what we do, to do it more efficiently,” he said. “We’re trying not to dismiss whole programs.”

RESTRUCTURE HASTY?

Brimstein noted that the recent reorganization of the district, which took effect March 1, aims to better position the school to face future challenges.

The move, called hasty by some community members, involved shifting administrative responsibilities and combining the district’s primary, intermediate, middle and high schools to create one elementary and one secondary school, as well as an Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Professional Development and Office of Student Support.

“The reorganization was not to just shake things up,” Brimstein said. “It was to look at what the structural barriers were that prevented clean communication. It was just really meant for the leadership organization to begin to mobilize in different formats.”

To preserve opportunities for students during difficult financial times, he added, other Peru Central employees may also be asked to take on new roles and operate programs differently.

The administration is “modeling for you what we’re going to ask our instructional staff and our support staff to do,” he said.

‘ASK THE KIDS’

Several individuals spoke up at the meeting, expressing a desire for more open communication between community and school.

“Change is always something that gets people scared to death,” former Peru School Board member Alan Stafford said. “We may look back on this whole change and reformation of the school and say that was gutsy but a smart call ... you’re going to need a team that’s going to work with you and know that you have their back with no questions asked.”

Brimstein said he appreciated the public’s comments about communication and is working to improve in that area.

Community input, he added, is also needed as the district faces difficult budgetary decisions.

“If you have suggestions out there that may help us not have to trim a program, please, please, please, please somehow get it to the District Office,” Board President Donna LaRocque said at the meeting. “We really want to hear it.”

During the second public comment period, Peru Central parent Kathleen Wyckoff suggested surveying district teachers, parents and even students for cost-cutting ideas.

“Kids are pretty creative,” she said.

The Peru School Board and Budget Advisory Committee meets next at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the High School Community Room.

The session is open to the public.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com