Monroe mulls $740K in savings

State auditor outlines opportunities for cost savings.

Auditor Dave Yost released those recommended cost savings and efficiency improvements Tuesday as part of a 35-page report on the district’s finances. Monroe has been undergoing an intense performance audit by the state since February 2012 when the school district was placed on fiscal watch.

The district has since been put into fiscal emergency status.

“We don’t have to do what they say,” said Monroe Treasurer Holly Cahall. “It’s a good document to see how we can save money. The audit compares us to the state minimums, which are sometimes not achievable.”

The performance audit, which spans the period of July 2011 to June 2012, focused on financial management, transportation, human resources and facilities in the district.

“The only recommendation I took exception to was to cut two more teaching positions,” said Phil Cagwin, interim superintendent. “My frustration simply was, in the audit, they look only at dollars and cents and not the implication to quality of education.”

The performance audit recommends reducing 2.4 full-time equivalent teaching positions, as well as an additional two FTE positions from Education Service Personnel — positions that include art, music, librarians and nurses. An annual savings of $224,000 would be recorded.

During the course of the performance audit, Monroe Schools had already worked to eliminate 5.5 FTE teaching positions, effective during the 2012-13 school year.

“There’s not an intention to reduce teachers further; it would be too hard,” Cahall said. “We want to compromise because staff has given a lot already.”

Other recommendations that could impact members of the Monroe Educational Association — currently under contract until June 30, 2014 — include seeking a 5 percent increase in employee share of health care premiums (savings of $95,000 a year); negotiating a freeze on step increases for certified staff (annual savings of $140,00); and salary freeze for classified staff (savings of $27,500 annually).

“A number of recommendations rely on (union) negotiations; it’s a bargaining process but the recommendations aren’t off base,” Cagwin said.

The performance audit outlines that reducing employee salaries and wages — representing 50 percent of total expenditures in 2011-12 — should be a focus area for Monroe schools.

Cahall said a new round of union negotiations would begin in the fall.

Within the realm of transportation, the audit suggests the school district eliminate two of its 23 active buses for an annual savings of $85,000. In 2011-12, Monroe spent $1.4 million on its transportation contract with Petermann Bus.

George Long, the school’s business manager, said rider times for the 1,868 students are about 45 minutes each way.

“If we’re to reduce buses it would have a detrimental effect on service and time,” Long said. “The district will always look to make the (bus) fleet as efficient as possible, and at the same time meet the service demands of this community.”

Monroe school board members recently received the 35-page audit report for their review, and will discuss the recommendations in the near future.

Cagwin said further reductions in teaching staff could impact the district’s ability to have a comprehensive course offering, including electives, at the high school. He said a ripple effect could hit enrollment figures and families choosing to join the district through open enrollment.

“As a superintendent, I can’t accept findings I think will harm the quality of the school district,” Cagwin said.