Osborne says more budget cuts coming

May 11, 2011 —

With the failure of the bond issue last week, and the proposed cuts in state aid, the Hudson Area School System will face deep cuts in the near future, says Hudson School Superintendent Mike Osborne. The problem is that there’s not much left to cut after having made deep cuts over the last several years.

“We’re looking at what kids of cuts can be made to transportation, maintenance and supplies,” he said in an interview Monday. “And we’re starting negotiations over wages and benefits. But 84 percent of our budget consists of salaries and benefits, so that’s where a lot of the cuts will have to be made.”

Osborne also said that it’s not yet clear if and when another bond proposal might go on the ballot.

The superintendent said that while many people saw the need of the schools to have bond issues, a lot of people didn’t see the urgency. “The result is that if something breaks down we’re going to have to take money from the academic program to fix it.”

Osborne said that right now the middle school/high school building is running on four of it’s total of seven boilers, and it can’t run on three. “If one goes down, we will have to do something, no matter what.”

“Roofs are another place that’s real critical,” he continued. “In some places they’re in bad shape, and if replacement is needed the money will have to come from the general fund.”

The situation is made especially dire since the Hudson’s school system has been running a deficit budget recently, and while they deficit has been improving, if things don’t improve there’s a good chance the state might appoint an emergency financial manager.

“It’s become clear in the last few years that we probably have more schools in the county than we need,” Osborne said. “We are currently the only county system in deficit. With that being the case, I can’t imagine that if an emergency financial manager comes to town they won’t look at dissolving the district, or combining it with another.”

Osborne pointed out that the Addison school district passed a huge bond for a major building project in the last year, and that Morenci has also passed several bonds in the last few years and their buildings are in good shape.

“You have to look at the effect of what this would do to the community if something like this were to happen,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard to try and not scare people, but I don’t see the economy turning around and us having a lot of new money any time soon.”

Osborne said it’s too early to tell where the million dollars needed in budget cuts are going to come from. It will certainly involve staffing cuts in all areas, including teachers, bus drivers, aides and so forth.

“It’s kind of a slow process, since the state doesn’t appear to be near determining what the state aid will be for the next year,” he said. “Enrollment will be another indicator, but we won’t know about that until the start of the next school years. Grant funding also is hard to predict. It appears the governor is pretty serious about getting the budget set by the end of May or the first part of June. If he does, then that would be extremely helpful.”

Osborne noted that some radical suggestions for cost savings have been made, but most aren’t feasible. These include massive cuts to buses and athletic programs, closing the Lincoln building and concentrating all students in the middle school/high school building, as well as others. While not likely now, it’s possible that these ideas might get revisited in the future if conditions continue to deteriorate.

While Osborne said he was very disappointed at the narrow defeat of the bond issue, he’s still very proud of the community. “I think we really communicated well and people understood the issues, but the reality of the issue is a little scary right now.”

Osborne said that he wants to share the truth about school’s situation. “People love the school and love the community,” he said “How many kids are we going to lose if we can’t have home football games or night games? What happens when the roof on the school goes out? We can make things happen and fix things temporarily, but we just don’t have the money to fix them right. We’re going to have to get our feet under us and move forward. The school is important to the community. If we lose families or businesses and the school, the community dies.”

“We don’t want to create a situation where we just barely take care of things and the community dies,” he summed up. “We really should be nervous as a community.”