Thursday, March 06, 2008

District Vows to Alert New Schools Chief

School district officials are keeping incoming Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III informed of budget changes for 2008-09, such as the news Tuesday that the $5 million shortfall announced Feb. 26 has grown by $1 million more as of Friday.

Gallon, an administrator in the Miami-Dade district, was hired Feb. 19 after a nationwide search. He takes charge of the Plainfield district July 1, the day the 2008-09 fiscal school year begins. Interim Superintendent Garnell Bailey said Tuesday the district is in communication with Gallon about the budget.

“We don’t want him to be sideswiped,” Bailey said.

The $5 million shortfall is due to a state mandate that Plainfield, one of 31 needy Abbott districts, must begin to pay its “fair share” of property taxes toward school costs. The district has paid only $17,683,906 annually local school taxes since 1992, even as state aid increased to $99 million. In most suburban districts, the proportions are opposite, with property owners paying most of school costs.

For 2008-09, the state is requiring Plainfield to increase the local tax levy by 4 percent, to $18,391,262, as a step toward contributing about $33 million as a fair share.

To prepare the budget for submission to the state this week, the administration proposed numerous cost-saving changes such as returning 32 academic coaches to the classroom, a reduction of $1.7 million. Another $1.2 million could be saved by eliminating 34 kindergarten assistants. Other proposed cuts targeted five vice principals, five special education teachers, eight secretaries, nine parent liaisons, seven support staff such as middle school guidance and dropout prevention personnel, three security guards, four elementary assistants and one bus driver.

Between budget submission and final board approval on March 25, the exact cuts will most likely be decided through discussions among the administration, staff, board and community. But even if voters reject the 4 percent increase on April 15, the state mandate will stand.

District officials learned of the additional $1 million shortfall Friday, when the state released charter school funding figures. The district had allowed $6.9 million for charter schools, but they will actually cost the district $7.9 in 2008-09. Business administrator/board secretary Gary Ottmann pointed out that Union County has only three charter schools, but they are all in Plainfield.

Budget options will be up for discussion at board meetings on March 11 and 18. Bailey has also called for a “School Budget 101” informational meeting for the public before March 25.

The district must also decide whether to handle staff reductions by non-renewal of contracts or by a blanket “reduction in force” notice. Either way, the action will take place before Gallon comes aboard.

(Shout-out to Dr. Gallon: Thanks for letting us know Feb. 19 that you read the Plaintalker! We'll also do our best to keep you informed!)

--Bernice Paglia


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