Post Election Letter to Board Members from Taxpayer

Here is a copy of a great email sent to the Kirkwood School District Board members from a Taxpayer. 

"Recently parents have been receiving alarmist emails from the superintendent regarding the supposedly dire consequences of Prop A having failed.  The main focus of these emails seems to be that cutting staff and thereby increasing class size is an utter necessity to stay within budget.  I am not buying it."

Dear Kirkwood School Board and Superintendent,
Recently parents have been receiving alarmist emails from the superintendent regarding the supposedly dire consequences of Prop A having failed.  The main focus of these emails seems to be that cutting staff and thereby increasing class size is an utter necessity to stay within budget.  I am not buying it.  Nor are a lot of other parents and voters.  A $6 million deficit sounds like a whole lot of money, but we have to keep it in perspective.  That’s only 7% of the total expenditures($87.6 million) and still only 9% of the operating expenditures ($6.7million).  No one can walk the halls of the Kirkwood schools and not realize we have a lot of indulgences for our students.  I would expect anyone who has the best interest of the students in mind would want to make cutting staff the absolutely last option to take.  Sadly,it seems that KSD is making it the first option.
Since salaries and benefits take up $58 million of the budget, the simplest mathematical solution is to cut salaries and benefits by 10% across the board.  To make up the remaining $200,000, the administrators could take an additional 5% cut (6.5% of $68 mil = $4.3 mil; 5%of $4.3 mil = $215,000). Surely it’s better to cut salaries than positions? Any suggestion that a cut in salary would lead to a mass exodus of qualified teachers is an insult to every staff member. I thought we prided ourselves on having staff that weren’t in teaching just for a paycheck.  Given the average salary of $70,000, 85 positions would have to be cut to make up the $6 mil shortfall.  What would it say about a staff member who would prefer 85 colleagues to lose their jobs rather than take a manageable pay cut?  I’m not sure I’d want that type of character teaching my children.  If the school board has reason to believe that staff members would give less than their best to retaliate for a pay cut,then those staff members need to be weeded out and fired. 
If KSD were to go with the salary cut method, I strongly suggest not taking the flat rate cut.  A much better option to keep morale up and convince the staff and taxpayers that the administration cares about the students and staff is to have a tiered system of cuts.  Do something like salaries below $40,000 would stay the same; salaries $40,000-$70,000 would have an up to 5% cut; salaries $70,000-$90,000 would have an up to 10% cut; salaries above $90,000 would have a 15% cut.  You can play around with the percentages and cutoff levels to give the greatest protection to the lowest paid employees while still achieving a balanced budget. 
KSD should look beyond salaries and benefits as a source of savings.  Kirkwood students are truly blessed to have such a plethora of extracurricular activities with sports and clubs and the like.  However, every single one of those extracurricular activities is a nicety, NOT a necessity.  My kids played hockey.  I would have loved it if KSD had picked up the tab for ice time, uniforms, and transportation.  Alas, hockey is a club sport, so parents had to pay out of pocket or do fundraising. If it means keeping staff positions staffed, only the most selfish parents would raise a fuss at having to fund raise or write a check for their kids to play soccer or football or be in the marching band or on the cheer-leading squad. 
Cutting, reducing, or modifying extracurriculars would certainly have some parents up in arms. The obvious argument against such a move is that each individual activity only costs “a drop in the bucket” so it’s “hardly” worth cutting.  That’s the type of thinking that gets so many people into financial problems.  A bucket is made up of drops.  Since KSD is hardly going to find one giant $6 mil drop that doesn’t upset anyone, smaller drops must be found.  It’s the collective effect of many minuscule drops that will make the difference.  Remember, we have to keep in mind what is best for the education of the students, not what stokes the egos of the adults.  Better a thousand paper cuts than an amputated limb. 
Let’s face it, though, KSD has other options than cutting positions, reducing salaries, and cutting activities.  An obvious source of increasing revenue and/or reducing costs is to go back to a tuition-based full day kindergarten.  It’s hard to say just how much the past four years of free for all fdk has cost the district.  At the very least it cost $3.2 million (4x$850,000).  When I asked repeatedly ifthe $850,000 truly captured the cost of fdk, I was told it was in addition to other costs.  Hmmm.  I’m going to throw out some scenarios.  Hopefully all of you have better data on what fdk costs, so you can assess the true savings. 
I’m going to assume there are 400 kindergartners in KSD.  I’ll also assume 25% are from families that qualify for free or reduce-priced meals.  I’ll also assume KSD wasn’t gouging parents by overcharging tuition in the past. That would mean fdk costs between $3600 (most recent tuition) and $6000(half the per pupil expenditure – the amount KSD cited when it wanted to raise tuition rates) per student.  If KSD whereto eliminate fdk altogether and offer only half day kindergarten, KSD would save between $1.44 mil (400 x $3600) and $2.4 mil (400 x $6000).  That’s not chump change. 
Now say KSD offers free fdk to families qualifying for free or reduce-priced meals, but charges tuition to others.  That would leave 350 students either paying tuition or enrolled in half day kindergarten. Then the savings and increased revenue combined would be between $1.26mil (350 x $3600) and $2.1 mil (350 x $6000). Still, not chump change. 
If KSD were to adopt one of the above scenarios, the $6 mil deficit would drop to $3.6 mil - $4.76 mil. These new numbers would require a flat rate salary cut of 6.2% -8.2%.  Let me reiterate that it would be better to use a tiered system of salary cuts to protect those with the lowest salaries. 
Let me offer another source of making up the deficit.  Ask the voters to rescind the technology fund and replace it with an equivalent tax that would produce revenue the board could spend as it felt best.  The technology fund produces $2.6 mil annually. Certainly some of that would still have to be used for technological purposes.  However, wouldn’t it be better if the board could decide to tighten their belts on technology rather than cut staffing?  Spending $1 mil on salaries would save 14 positions at the average salary of $70,000.  What serves the students better: more technology or smaller class sizes?
Now add that $1 mil to my scenarios regarding fdk funding.  The $6 mil deficit in operating costs would now be reduced to $2.6 mil - $3.76 mil.  To make up these deficits with salary cuts,KSD would have to cut salaries by an average of 4.5% - 6.5%.  This is looking better and better. 
I have to ask, why is KSD so insistent on cutting staff?  It doesn’t make sense.  The only explanation I can come up with, and I really hope I am wrong, is that KSD wants to create a crisis so when the next tax rate increase goes to the voters, parents will be scared into voting for the increase.  It seems so obvious to me that it would be much better to make up the deficit through modifying extracurriculars, reworking the technology fund, reinstating tuition for fdk for all but the truly financially pressed families, and reducing salaries.  What am I missing that makes it better for the students to cut staffing instead?
 
Sincerely,
Jill Coakley