Budget committee supports raises for teachers, staff

By Pat Sunderland

A budget advisory committee has recommended that the bulk of an anticipated 50J revenue increase go to salaries and benefits for school district employees.

Between an increase in state funding and some carryovers, Delta County Joint School District #50 expects to have an additional $1.1 million available in the 2016-17 budget.

To help determine how those revenues should be allocated, a budget committee was created with a representative group of administrators, teachers, classified staff members, parents and community members. They met several times before coming up with a list of recommendations for the school board to consider.

"We started out with a number of different options and whittled them down," committee spokesman Frederick Zimmer reported at the March 17 school board meeting. "There was a lot of give and take around how expenses should be shared out."

Ultimately, committee members decided to recommend a "sizable bump" in certified and classified salaries.

But after allocating what they felt appropriate for salaries -- a total of $850,000 -- there wasn't much money left for anything else. The short list of recommended expenditures included professional development and curriculum resources.

"When you can only do so much, supporting our staff seemed the place we'd get the most return for the kids in the district," Zimmer said.

Board president Tammy Smith asked if committee members considered the impact on next year's budget, since salaries and benefits are ongoing expenses, rather than one-time purchases.

Yes, Zimmer replied, declining enrollment and economic uncertainty were definitely considered. "Up until the last day, there was discussion that if we do this, are we potentially setting ourselves up to have to let people go next year? Maybe, but in the final analysis, it still felt this was the best way to apply that money. Next year we're going to have to deal with next year."

He added that he found the process very enlightening, and was pleased to see the district working so hard to take the resources available and use them effectively.

In April, the school board will go through a similar process. They will also hear a presentation about health insurance, and district business manager Jim Ventrello will have an update on state revenue projections. Those numbers have dropped since the budget committee met, Ventrello said, and will likely change again before they're finalized later this spring.

"Ultimately the school board is responsible for the budget," said superintendent Caryn Gibson, "but the budget committee's recommendation gives the board some guidance."

Board members have already identified other funding priorities, including building maintenance, technology and transportation.