Continuing from a workshop conducted after its Feb. 10 work session, the board again heard from Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison about the expected budget shortfalls for FY11 and how the district arrived at the numbers.
Addison said the district is expecting a shortfall of around $60 million to $100 million.
Board Chairwoman Lynnda Crowder-Eagle asked each board member to bring their own ideas of how and where to make budget cuts, saying that no subject was off the table. But on Wednesday night, the board members mostly just drilled Superintendent Fred Sanderson with questions to get a hold on how the district is running under its current budget and how that money is being allocated and spent.
Currently, 90 percent of the district's budget is spent on personnel costs - things such as teacher salaries and benefits. Additionally, $50 million to $51 million is spent on transportation and $135 million goes to maintenance and operations of the district.
Sanderson said he and his staff have tried to set aside money for essential costs, such as electricity, in order to really hone in on services and programs that aren't essential and may be able to be cut and have a relatively minimal effect on the district.
"If we eliminate this program, is this something that we are, collectively, willing to do? We're going to have to make these choices, whereas three years ago, we would never thought about eliminating that particular service," Sanderson said.
The board did kick around a few ideas for increasing class sizes, but board member Alison Bartlett expressed her concern that something like that might jeopardize the academic performance of the district's students, the district's No. 1 goal, Bartlett reminded the board.
Board member Dr. John Abraham agreed, saying the board should look at cutting the budget in places that don't directly effect student acheivment.
"I want to keep the integrity of the classroom as best as we can right now so we enhance the achievement," Abraham said.
Board member Dr. John Crooks asked the superintendent and his staff to answer specific questions regarding things such as the average cost per student throughout the district, the average cost per student per school level and the cost per student for each school, along with the state and district capacity for each school. Crooks' rationalization for these questions are to look at the district at a big picture level so that he and his colleagues can make the most informed decision possible when it comes time to vote for the budget in June.
"I think we're at a point now where what's important to us is one thing, what is absolutely essential is something else," Crooks said. "And I need to know all the data before I say this is essential."
Crooks also mentioned that he had spoken to Sanderson before the meeting about doing something he called an efficiency program.
Later, Crooks said that this strategy would look at each school in the district and review all of their programs to see if any were overlapping and look at how to consolidate those programs to save money. He also said that he would recommend to the district that it hire an independent agency to help evaluate the efficiency of the district and produce an objective opinion on how to run it better.
"Helps you figure out how to prioritize where you spend your dollars," Crooks said.
When asked if he thought the board would come to the same conclusion as an independent agency on how to run a more efficient district, Crooks said that was the $64 million question.
"If you start at a global perspective and you build a case, I believe smart people will come to the same conclusion," Crooks said.
One thing all the board members agreed on was that not everyone is going to be happy come June.
"I want to be honest to whatever camera that's looking at me," Crooks said. "There will be people who will not be happy at the end of this day."
At the end of the meeting, Crowder-Eagle announced that she would be conducting the district's first of four budget forums March 9 at 7 p.m. at Kennesaw Mountain High School to inform the community about progress on the budget.
Also at the budget meeting, the board heard from Holli Cash about a proposal for conflict resolution training. Carol Rice, a partner with Conflict Resolution Academy, offered the board a free training session with her company, which specializes in training mediators for sate courts. Rice said she would come back to the board with a list of classes the company offers and encouraged the board to chose from this list. She said she would prefer to do an all-day work session some time in March with the board.