By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
CAMP POINT, Ill. -- The Camp Point School District is seeking the public's help in deciding how to trim $350,000 from next year's budget.
Superintendent Martin Cook says general state aid to the district has declined every year since 2009, and another state funding cut is expected in the next fiscal year.
So Cook is urging the Camp Point School Board to prepare for the decline by cutting expenses proportionately. He established a goal of trimming at least $350,000 from the 2013-14 district budget to be adopted over the summer.
At this point, no decisions have been made on where cuts will be made, but Cook hopes to start making some recommendations at the board's Feb. 21 meeting. He said any decisions involving the release of personnel would have to be made by the board's March 21 meeting so layoff notices can be issued in a timely manner to affected employees, who must be given notice at least 90 days before the fiscal year ends June 30.
The board held a districtwide meeting with employees Jan. 9 to solicit ideas on where cuts could be made. It is now seeking input from district residents.
Cook recently posted on the district's website -- www.cusd3.com -- a detailed explanation of how the state's financial crisis is impacting the Camp Point School District. Included in that posting are links the public can use to send in their ideas on how the district could go about cutting expenses.
Cook said the public has until the end of February to submit comments.
"I'm just to the point where I don't have confidence that the state is going to come through with the funding that we're going to need over the next two or three years," Cook said in an interview.
"We just have to stay out in front of this as much as we can and be proactive and start earlier making decisions about where we can reduce costs instead of hoping that things are going to get better and then realize they're not. That's why we're going this route."
In his website posting, Cook noted that the economic downturn that began in 2008 "has had a lingering impact on schools in Illinois." He said the Camp Point School District has been hurt in particular by a drop in state funding, which comprises about 55 percent of the district's $8 million operating budget.
Cook noted that general state aid to Camp Point rose steadily each year from 2003 through 2009 when it peaked at just over $4 million. Since then, state aid has declined steadily by about $300,000 a year. The district is slated to receive $2,980,204 this year, but Cook told The Herald-Whig he expects that amount to drop another $300,000 or more next year.
While annual state aid payments were growing, Cook said, the Camp Point district squirreled away some surplus funds that have since been used to pay for several building-related improvements without the need to pass bonds or increase the district's tax rate, which has steadily declined for seven straight years.
But now the district's built-up cash reserves are being depleted. So some more belt-tightening is needed.
Cook said the Camp Point School Board implemented $392,000 in budget cuts two years ago -- also in response to declining state funds. At that time, the board opted to eliminate about seven positions. He said about four employees retired that year and were simply not replaced, and two other teaching positions and one aide job were eliminated. In addition, the board cut spending in each department by 10 percent, and it voted to reduce the athletic budget by eliminating certain fifth- and sixth-grade sports.
A similar approach may be needed this year. Cook noted that about 80 percent of the district's operating budget goes to pay salaries and benefits, so some personnel reductions likely will be needed to meet the $350,000 target.
"If you're going to make substantial savings, unfortunately, it always involves personnel because that's where the lion's share of our money goes," he said.
Cook said the district expects to lose two positions to retirements this coming year, so those openings can simply go unfilled. But other positions will likely have to be cut. At this point, "everything is on the table," he said.
"We'll look at extracurriculars, we'll look at transportation expenditures, we'll look at maintenance programs, we'll look at our food services," Cook said.
Athletics will likely be a target for cutting, Cook said.
"That's one of the first things we're looking at," he said. "I'm not saying we are, but the possibility is out there" for reducing certain athletic programs.
"I think we'll take a hard look at reducing freshman-level sports. We have freshman schedules in basketball, baseball, softball and so on. By reducing that, that would save considerable dollars," he said.
Cook said he would prefer to reduce extracurricular costs before reducing educational programs.
"The last thing we want to impact is what goes on in the classroom," he said.