Sidney Schools Superintendent warns of financial challenges, potential impact

Sidney Schools Superintendent warns of financial challenges, potential impact
February 24th, 2024 | News Release / KNEB News Staff

The Superintendent of Sidney Public Schools issued a letter to parents Friday, warning of the need to make some hard choices as the District works through a worsening financial outlook.

In the letter, Andrew Farber said the District has received less than anticipated annual tax collections the past three years, rising costs due to inflation and falling state aid anticipated to worsen for the coming school year.

Farber said for the 2024-25 school year, with the projected loss in state aid and tax collection, the district will experience a significant shortfall in funding, and is seeking input from District patrons on how to address the situation.

He said staff has worked to reduce expenses by up to three percent since last June, but additional measures are being considered, including changes to busing, adjusting staffing levels, and even the potential closure of North Elementary.

The Sidney Board of Education plans to hold their March 11 meeting in the high school auditorium at 5:30 p.m. to give the public the opportunity to provide input and direction on the process.

Letter sent to Sidney Public School parents:

“I trust this letter finds you well and thriving in the new year. As we reflect on the first semester, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have met numerous individuals in our wonderful community, work with dedicated students and families, and collaborate with an amazing staff deeply committed to the learning process. However, as we embrace the positive aspects, it is crucial to address a significant challenge that has come to our attention regarding the financial state of Sidney Public Schools.

First of all, much like households, the district is navigating in a time of inflation that significantly impacts our expenses. The district experiences increased costs for general services, mirroring the challenges that are also faced by our families. Additionally, despite our efforts, we have collected only 93-95% of levied taxes over the last three years, resulting in an average loss of $325,000 annually to our general fund.

So you are aware, this environment has contributed to the district operating in a financial deficit since the 2020-2021 school year. This financial challenge is further exacerbated by the current Nebraska school finance plan, along with the recent school finance approach implemented by Governor Pillan, resulting in a $250,000 reduction in state aid for Sidney Public Schools for the current school year. Additionally, the district is facing a projected loss of over $600,000 in state aid for the 2024 – 2025 school year. This means that since June of 2023, the district has lost a total of $850,000 in state aid funding. For the 2024 – 2025 school year, with the projected loss in state aid and tax collection, the district will experience a significant shortfall in funding.

A substantial portion of our funds, 80%, is allocated to staff and related academic programming. To retain our valued educators and uphold the quality of our programs, we provide competitive salaries and benefits, which is essential during the ongoing teacher shortage. The district is accessing federal grants to assist in offsetting that expense as well. Furthermore, to prepare our students for the future, we have introduced quality real-life courses and programming in recent years. The district is working to maintain our staff and course offerings, despite the budget shortfall.

During the current school year, in response to the financial predicament, the district, in collaboration with building principals and staff, has diligently worked since June 2023 to reduce monthly spending by 1-3%, made cuts to minor services and is working to identify additional expenses that may assist in the reduction of our deficit. These steps have resulted in a reduction of $250,000 in the current budget. However, despite these efforts, a shortage of funds still remains, prompting the district to explore other avenues for cost-cutting without compromising the quality of our current educational process.

In tackling this challenge and anticipating a significant decrease in state aid for the 2024 – 2025 school year, the district is exploring various avenues to address this issue thoughtfully, with the aim of trimming costs while ensuring the responsible use of taxpayer funds.

As a school district, we are considering measures such as, a continual decrease of discretionary and administrative expenses, streamlining district support systems, adjusting staffing levels, and even the potential closure of North Elementary. Moreover, SPS does not intend to re-hire the North Elementary principal position, rather the district will leverage the skills of our current building principals to drive academic progress and possible facility enhancements for 3rd and 4th grade.

So you are aware, as part of this process, Sidney Public Schools has made the decision to discontinue the Cool Kids Club program, effective June 1, 2024. While acknowledging the program’s value and its impact on after-school care options for parents, Sidney Public Schools recognizes that its usage is confined to a limited number of families, imposing a substantial financial impact on the district. The current annual cost of the Cool Kids Club program stands at approximately $140,000 a year, catering to a consistent enrollment of 30 to 35 elementary students.

Nebraska state statute 79-611 mandates that school districts transport students residing 4 miles or more outside city limits. Due to that state requirement, the district is currently exploring adjustments to our interlocal, or “in town” bussing services, with a possibility of either streamlining, or eliminating it. While we understand the potential burden this decision may place on families, it is essential for the district’s financial sustainability.

Before finalizing any decision on bussing, or district services, your feedback is essential to ensure that the changes we make meet the diverse needs of our community. We believe it is crucial to get feedback from our families and your participation in this process is greatly appreciated. In order to facilitate this conversation, the Sidney Public Schools, school board of education plans to hold the March board meeting on 03/11/24 in the high school auditorium at 5:30 pm. SPS would like to invite you to share your perspectives and insights during this meeting. The district will adhere to all public speaking guidelines outlined by SPS.

We appreciate your understanding and collaboration as we navigate these challenging financial circumstances. Our ultimate goal as a district is to eliminate the budget deficit, build reasonable reserves and potentially maintain, or reduce our tax levy. Your participation and input are invaluable as we collectively work towards ensuring the continued success of Sidney Public Schools.”


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