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System to make cuts
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Due to rising fees and a tightening budget, the local school system, one of the largest employers in Dawson County, faces staff cuts.

"We value our employees very much, and it is very regrettable that our current budget situation has led to such major reductions in staffing," said Keith Porter, system superintendent.

If approved at the April 16 meeting, four positions will be trimmed and "absorbed," meaning they will not be replaced. That action will be in addition to one cut that has been approved and more than 12 retirees whose spots will not be filled.

Porter estimates another 15 positions may have to be slashed to handle the budget situation.

"As we compared the reductions in revenue versus our level of expenditure, it became quite obvious that we would have to cut expenditures more drastically than in the past," Porter said.

"The overall budget is made up of 87 percent salaries and benefits of employees, so the only way to significantly impact our budget is through reducing this area of expenditure."

The situation the system faces is a combination of governmental spending cuts that have increased in recent years, according to Porter.

In addition to the school system receiving more than $2.5 million in state austerity cuts per year, officials recently learned the Department of Community Health is raising health insurance premiums.

They are expected to rise next year by $50 per month per classified employee, or those who are non-faculty, administrative or staff.

The rise in health care fees for employees was an unexpected hit.

Porter said the change will cost the system about $1.3 million over the next few years since "it is going up countywide $400,000 each year for the next three years."

The system is also required to contribute 5 mills of its local tax collections to the state for the 10th straight year.

A mill, the rate used to calculate taxes, is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.

After increasing the millage rate last year to meet the budget shortfall, Porter said the school board believes personnel cuts are the only option.

Other previous budget-tightening strategies have included: reducing student days; adding more teacher furlough days; freezing programs; temporarily suspending employee's health insurance supplements; and increasing the millage rate.

Porter said that the financial situation is a complex dilemma with numerous facets. He said that planning school budgets is a long-term process.

"When we do a budget for each year, we project out three years into the future," he said. "We are making decisions in one school year to try and assist not only that budget, but future budgets. It's an ongoing process."

Personnel cuts and teacher layoffs have always been an option, but not a desirable one.

"There's no way we can be fiscally responsible and not work long-term, understanding the system changes relatively quickly when we consider tax digest or health care insurance premiums," Porter said.

According to Porter, the cuts would take affect for the 2012-13 school year.