Three fewer school days, one less principal and a pay freeze for administrators are on the list of alternative options prepared by the instructional aides of the Carlisle Area School District.
In a pushback against outsourcing, the aides Thursday presented a rundown of ideas to school board members who will decide whether to remove their jobs from the district payroll.
District administrators have recommended the board outsource the remaining aides to save an estimated $600,000 in pension and health care costs in 2019-20.
Ann Marie Chaney, an aide at Mooreland Elementary School, outlined the ideas she compiled through texts, emails and conversations she had with fellow aides and classroom teachers.
Her presentation came a week after Superintendent Christina Spielbauer briefed the board on her recommended list of cost-cutting measures for next year, which include the elimination of six full-time teaching positions.
Board members Jan. 17 approved a resolution authorizing the administration to conduct a comprehensive study on the minimal staffing needs of the district with an eye toward improving organizational efficiency.
“We went with the board’s idea to come up with ideas to save money,” Chaney said Thursday. She said those involved shared their ideas with her so that the group as a whole could present one list to the board.
While all the measures presented by Spielbauer have a cost savings estimate, none of the ideas presented by the aides have a dollar figure attached. Board members and district administrators are grappling with the prospect of a $3.7 million budget shortfall in 2019-20.
The aides suggested the school board reduce the upcoming school year from 183 instructional days to the state mandate of 180 days. “The district would realize substantial savings from three fewer days of wages,” said Chaney, adding the savings also apply to utilities, student transportation and meals.
“Only one other district in Cumberland County has 183 days,” said Chaney, identifying it as Cumberland Valley. “Shippensburg School District has 181 student days. The following school districts, located in Cumberland County, have 180 student days: Big Spring, West Shore, East Pennsboro, Mechanicsburg, Camp Hill and South Middleton Township.”
Other cost-cutting and revenue-generating ideas include:
- Reducing the number of high school principals from five to four
- Eliminating an administrative pay raise for next year
- Cutting foreign language course offerings from the middle school curriculum
- Increasing the price of admission to sports events by a dollar or two
- Closing one middle school and all but one elementary school in the summer to allow building secretaries to work from fewer buildings
- Requiring students to provide their own laptop computer if they are financially able
- Reducing to one year the graduation requirement for physical education
- Using cafeteria proctors, not the principals, to monitor student lunches
- Making school gymnasiums available for rent
There also was a suggestion to change how the district receives and distributes letters, magazines and parcels through the U.S. Postal Service. Under the current practice, all the mail is delivered to the district administrative office wing regardless of its intended recipient, Chaney said.
The mail is sorted by school district employees who use district-owned vehicles to deliver the mail to the schools and other buildings. Chaney suggested having USPS deliver the mail directly to each building to save the district money in personnel and transportation costs. Another idea suggested restructuring the music curriculum.
“Music, choir, band and orchestra, we have teachers for each of these music concepts,” Chaney said. “[Yet] their education requires them to know how to teach all of these [concepts]. It may be a cost-savings to have them fulfill more teaching, all in one or two buildings.”
While some ideas presented by the aides have merit and deserve further evaluation, others lack merit or suffer from oversimplification, board member Fred Baldwin said.
For example, the suggestion “rent out the gyms” may not be as easy as it sounds. The district would still need to pay someone to monitor the activity within the gym and to clean up after the event.
“You have to think about the trade-offs,” Baldwin said. “There’s a difference between what you think you would get and what you would actually get ... and what you would lose. When you try to preserve in one area, something else has to give.”
Baldwin said fewer school days or a reworked music curriculum are not high on his list of ideas that have merit or would yield appropriate cost savings.
“There are some that we will take a look at and give it some thought,” Spielbauer said. “Additional items may be forthcoming to the board as we continue to review.”
More than likely, these additional items would be presented during budget and finance committee meetings generally scheduled for the second Thursday of each month. If this pattern holds, the next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. March 14 in the large group instruction room of the Fowler building of Carlisle High School.
In her first round of recommended cost-cutting measures, Spielbauer suggested the board cut six full-time teaching positions for a savings of $450,000 and approve the proposed outsourcing of aides for a projected savings of $600,000.
If outsourcing is approved, the remaining aides would have the opportunity to apply for employment through ESS. However, it is generally believed that the school district offers a better benefits package than the outside contractor.
“We rely on the health care provided by the district,” said Lorie Green, an instructional aide at Bellaire Elementary School. She said three members of her family have medical conditions that require affordable health insurance for prescriptions. Applying for her job through ESS is not an option for Green.
“We have been dedicated,” Green said. “We enjoy our jobs working with these children on the limited salaries that we receive. We just want to be able to keep our quality health care and our retirement.
“Let’s face it, if we are sincere about wanting to save money, we would not be eliminating aides earning $6,000 to $12,000 a year,” she told the board. “We would be looking at not hiring someone at a much higher salary. We would not destroy the lives of those who make the least, but instead look at reducing the lucrative salary of administrators or at least freezing raises over future years.”