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D-11 furloughs, part-time labor win backing

April 20, 2011

The Colorado Springs School District 11 school board Wednesday tackled a mix of budget ideas and seemed to be willing to settle on increasing class size by one student, two furlough days and creation of a part-time labor pool to cut costs.

Although the district is awaiting final numbers from the state, it expects to have to cut about $10.5 million instead of the anticipated high of $14 million. Some of the difference, officials said, could be used to create a reserve fund that could pay for an additional 20 teachers if enrollment warrants that and a compensation fund to reward teachers.

The administration had come up with a combination of plans to be ready for a range of cuts.

Increasing class size by about one student per classroom would save about $3 million. About 60 positions would be eliminated, but that would largely be handled through attrition.

“Theoretically, no one will be losing their jobs?” board member Sandra Mann asked district officials, seeking clarification.

Gledich and other officials said they didn’t expect any teachers to lose their jobs with the class size increase.

Last week, Gledich recommended increasing class size by 1.5 students per classroom to save nearly $4 million. That would have eliminated about 78 positions.

Some board members, including Charles Bobbitt, said class size was a priority and he wants as small an increase as possible.

Bob Null, board treasurer, said he didn’t see the difference between a half-student increase or a 1.5 student increase.

“It’s hard for me to come to grips that one more student in the classroom would impact achievement negatively,” he said.

District 11 Finance Director Glenn Gustafson revisited a plan proposed last week that could yield about $1 million in savings by creating a part-time labor pool. Savings would come from reducing pay and benefits. The “mostly” at-will employees would not receive sick time or other kinds of leave.

The board must approve the Flexible Labor Experts (FLEX) Plan concept before resources can be committed and a more detailed plan set. A vote could come at the April 27 meeting.

“It seems to have come out of the blue,” said board member Sandra Mann when asking how positions would be FLEX or not.

Gustafson agreed that it had come up fast. He said he had spoken with all three employee groups, and the interest was positive.

“If it’s not working, the board can reverse directions,” said board President Tom Strand.

The plan works well with district goals and allows the district to be more flexible and efficient, he said. Anyone teaching would have to be licensed and be considered “highly qualified.”

Retired or part-time teachers, educational support staff and exempt employees from the district and others would work up to 110 days, a PERA limitation, Gustafson said. A graduate student would be eligible to work more days. A flexible schedule and meaningful part-time employment are selling points, he said.

Bobbitt said it could appeal to graduate students or someone with children at home.

Gledich added that it could even be used to fill seasonal needs.

The Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) gains with the plan since it would receive full employee-employer pension contributions with little or no pension obligation, he said. By law, the district is required to pay into PERA even if the employees will not get those benefits.

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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