Sedona-Oak Creek School District starts talking budget cuts

With a projected loss of 66 students for next school year, the district is estimating a maintenance and operations budget of $6,405,327.99, including the 15 percent budget override of $828,989.82 and $49,739.39 in Proposition 123 funds.

The district needs to cut about $1.5 million from its current expenses to make next year’s projected budget work. The vast majority of the district’s revenue goes to salaries and benefits, and only about $1.5 million goes to other relatively inflexible expenses like utilities, insurance and a mandatory annual audit.

Meanwhile, current salaries and benefits, including raises and no change to employee health insurance for next year, cost more than $6.4 million.

During the Tuesday meeting, finance director Heather ShawBurton and Superintendent Dave Lykins presented some ways they’ve already looked at trimming expenses at the district level.

“We’ll be able to make some progress towards the identified deficit without even being out in the schools or in the buildings,” Lykins said of the cuts proposed at the meeting, none of which propose significant changes at the classroom level.

Shaw-Burton and Lykins presented a few options in adjustments to the district’s health insurance plans to cut costs for the district. ShawBurton said about 70 percent of the district’s employees opt for a high-deductible health plan rather than a core/copay plan, and the crux of the district’s savings came from changes in contribution to the HDHP health savings accounts.

Of the options presented, administration and the board gave tentative support for a plan that could save the district about $181,000.

“It comes back to the same point that whatever we don’t deduct or save out of here, is just somewhere else it has to come from,” Lykins said.

Shaw-Burton and Lykins reconfigured departments at the district office to eliminate two and a quarter full-time equivalent positions at the district level.

They also proposed restructuring administration at Sedona Red Rock junior high and high schools from two principals and an assistant principal to one principal and one assistant, eliminating 0.8 FTE.

Between the two, savings total to about $184,000.

Shaw-Burton also proposed a number of ways to cut discretionary spending for $143,000 in savings. Cuts included: 

  • Eliminating non-grant funded professional development and travel for the next school year.
  • Establishing “bell-to-bell” aide hours, meaning aides would not work before or after school.
  • Consolidating morning bus routes and budgeting all bus drivers as part-time. n Reducing 10- and 11-month contract calendars by four days each.
  • Changing the Xerox contract, which took effect in November.
  • Canceling the contract for projector services.
  • Purchasing a commercial washer and dryer to eliminate linen service.
  • Eliminating the advertising contract with the KAZM radio station.
  • Consolidating postage meters to one at the district office.
  • Refinishing gym floors every other year instead of annually.

These proposed administration and discretionary spending cuts make up for a little less than 25 percent of the needed cuts, not including the changes to health insurance.

After the presentation, the floor was opened to other ideas and discussion to find savings.

“No idea is a bad idea at this time,” Lykins said, since right now the district is only exploring its options.

Governing Board President Randy Hawley suggested finding ways to increase savings in the transportation department, whether through consolidating the transportation director position or re-evaluating bus routes.

He pointed out that the district has a relatively high concentration of administration-level employees — including school principals and department directors — and asked if there was opportunity for consolidation there.

Administration asked the board to consider how the new superintendent could be used best, including by taking over some of those administrative positions Hawley mentioned, like in directing curriculum, business or human resources.

Board Vice President Heather Hermen said an organization has approached her about taking over management of the Sedona Performing Arts Center on the high school’s campus. The idea of outsourcing care of the facility has been brought up in the past, and Hermen said the organization has given her a detailed presentation that could be discussed at the next Governing Board meeting Tuesday, March 6.

One of the benefits of outsourcing SPAC management, Hermen said, is that the organization would still pay the school district for use of the facility, on top of saving the district money in upkeep.

Other ideas revolved around finding ways to get more income for the district, including establishing an education foundation, which the district’s attorney is examining paperwork for, and pursuing tax credit donations.

Lykins said the district is on track to receive more in tax credit donations than it has since 2006 when it received about $250,000 — the most in the history of the district. This year, the district is at about $219,000, so far.

“The more we do, the more efforts we have, the more money we’ll get,” Lykins said.

Rebekah Wahlberg can be reached at 282-7795 ext. 117 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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