Latest Proposal From State Legislature Imperils P-S School

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A state plan to slash school administrative costs would cut so deeply into Pine-Strawberry Elementary School's budget, the school wouldn't be able to afford a principal, school officials said Monday.

Under a revised budget plan developed by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Pine-Strawberry Elementary would lose more than $76,000 in state aid for administration expenses.

Last year, the school budgeted $97,895 to pay for the principal's salary, benefits, dues, fees, supplies, travel, insurance and consultant services, P-S Business Manager Mary Jo Licavoli said. Principal Richard Soikkeli's salary and benefits alone cost about $56,000, she said.

"The school only has one administrator -- the principal," she said. "If we have to cut $76,000 out of our budget, that would effectively eliminate our principal."

Under the committee's initial plan, which would have cut school aid by $27 million statewide, P-S Elementary didn't stand to lose any funding.

That plan was revised last week, however, to take into account students who are registered in one district but educated in another.

Under the first plan, students who live in Pine or Strawberry but attend Payson High School were counted among P-S Elementary's student population, making the school's administration cost per pupil seem lower than it is.

According to the state's new calculations, the school's administrative cost per pupil is $329 higher than the state average for similarly sized schools. P-S Elementary has 233 students.

According to the committee's calculations, P-S Elementary should be able to cut its administration costs by $76,697 ($329 x 233) to bring the school's expenses in line with the state average.

But Licavoli said the committee based its calculations on last year's administrative-instructional support budget, which included at least one irrelevant position.

School officials budgeted $263,676 last year for administration and instructional support, which includes the principal's position, three teachers' aides, a secretary and office operations.

The full-time secretary position and some of the other expenses seemed to logically fall under administration, but technically they should be reclassified, she said. Those expenses made the school's administrative budget look bigger than it really is, she said.

In Payson, the plan revision, which would cut $23 million statewide, would slash $76,495 out of the district's administration budget -- $15,363 more than the cuts required under the initial plan.

"One of the points that they're not taking into consideration is that Payson encourages smaller elementary school sizes," Payson Business Manager Bobette Sylvester said. "Each school requires a principal. In terms of effective education, the school board feels smaller schools are more educationally sound, but this bill explicitly works against that."

The committee's budget recommendations, including its proposed school administration cost-cuts, are expected to be sent before the budget subcommittee for review Friday. The full Legislature normally considers finalized budget proposals in March.

According to Gov. Jane Hull's press office, the governor opposes the committee's school budget cuts.

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