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Monroe schools' $3.2M in budget cuts just a start

MONROE - Even after making staffing cuts of $3.2 million, Monroe Public Schools needs to trim $2.4 million from next year's budget.

The district is looking at a combination of measures to close the gap on the projected $5.6 million deficit, officials said. Proposals range from seeking concessions on wages and contract language with employee unions and cutting school educational programs and classes. The proposed budget for 2010-2011 is $61.7 million.

The Board of Education last week unanimously approved a $3.2 million plan to eliminate about 35 positions in the district. The jobs included 20 teaching positions, a central office administrator, support staff in the central office, two assistant principals, a counselor, secretaries, maintenance workers, operations supervisor, nurse, and early childhood coordinator.

The board also moved to begin contract talks with Sodexo Corp. that could lead to privatizing janitorial workers, a move school officials project would save about $580,000 annually.

Deputy Superintendent Randy Monday said the board action has put a dent in the district's financial problems, but there are more proposals to review.

"This has been really tough for board members. Everyone is struggling with this because we are dealing with people and their careers. We are getting down to the real heart of the matter. It is just not easy," he said.

More budget cuts being weighed by the board are tied to negotiations with the teacher's union and other employee groups.

"There is a long list of possible budget reductions. But the options that will provide significantly big chunks of savings are going to be issues that will have to be bargained," said Ken Laub, assistant superintendent of business.

At last week's meeting, board members who voted 4-3 on privatization talks with Sodexo Corp. urged the administration to keep seeking possible concessions with district's maintenance and custodial union.

The district soon will sit down with the union and three other bargaining groups, including the 366-member Monroe City Education Association, to discuss possible concessions. The mulityear contracts have reopening clauses that allow the two sides to discuss wages.

Mr. Monday said the board's priorities have been to make cuts that will have the least impact on the classroom and to try to preserve athletics.

Among possible cuts being explored are eliminating nonessential busing of students and reducing the daily class schedule.

"Educational programs and classes are absolutely the last things on the list. Our commitment is to look at all options other than the removal or elimination of class programs, which are the last thing we want to target," Mr. Monday said.

School officials said the contract with Sodexo could go before the board at the next meeting, May 25.

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