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home : news : news Wednesday, August 16, 2017

11/14/2012 Email this articlePrint this article 
Central considers eliminating transporation director

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

The Central Community School Board is set to vote in December on a proposal to eliminate the director of transportation position and combine the transportation department with the maintenance department, but some board members say they feel rushed to make such a major change so quickly.

The proposal would eliminate the transportation director position held by Steve Thiltgen and give his duties to director of buildings and grounds Keith Walker under the title of director of operations.

It would take effect over Central's winter break, which begins Dec. 21.

Superintendent Dan Peterson is pushing the consolidation plan as a cost-saving measure to deal with more than $800,000 in budget cuts he says are necessary to balance next year's budget.

Peterson said the district will need cuts of $400,000 to make up for anticipated overspending this year, $210,000 to make up for funds that will be lost due to a 35-student enrollment decrease and an additional $200,000 due to anticipated increases in employee salary and benefits.

"The more we're able to make changes this year, the more that number will go down," Peterson said at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Central Community School Board.

With 85 percent of the district's expenses going to personnel, "That $810,000 is going to be very hard to come by without reducing personnel," he said.

"The reality is, we're shrinking in size. We have the fewest number of kids we've ever had."

The consolidation of departments would eliminate $62,827.17 in salary and benefit costs for the transportation director position, but Peterson is recommending Walker receive a $10,000 salary increase for taking on the extra transportation duties.

Peterson says the result will be a potential savings of $51,195.17 after accounting for Social Security and insurance contributions, with possibilities for future efficiencies within the combined maintenance/transportation department.

In a memo to staff outlining the proposed departmental consolidation, Peterson acknowledged the new director of operations will need at least a part-time secretary. The memo states a substitute secretary will be hired for the remainder of the school year while Walker determines what the long-term secretarial needs will be.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, Peterson said he doesn't know how many hours per week a secretary would be needed and declined to estimate how those costs will affect the projected savings.

"I'm not going to pencil out what that would look like. I'm just not going to do it," he said.

Peterson said the proposal is based on efficiency and cost savings and will help prevent cuts elsewhere.

"The biggest thing we want to do is keep our budget reductions away from our kids," he said.

Board member Jim Irwin said he was upset over a letter to the editor that appeared in the Nov. 3 Observer that questioned Peterson's savings estimates.

Irwin clearly supports the consolidation plan and said he spoke in years past with Peterson and former superintendent Carol Hansen about the idea.

"It's not personal. It's positions, and it's budget . . . For every $50,000 I can find outside of teachers, we're going to be able to keep a teacher in the classroom," Irwin said.

However, Irwin said he is concerned about the impact of doubling the number of staff members Walker oversees.

"I have questions whether he can handle it. That's a fair question," Irwin said.

He said he doesn't want to jeopardize student safety and also is concerned about making a transition at the same time the transportation department has lost its mechanic.

The school board earlier in the meeting approved the resignation of mechanic Ryan Jones, effective Nov. 30, for reasons board members said were unrelated to the consolidation discussion.

"There are some very legitimate concerns, but I think it can all be worked out, and it's going to be a learning process," Irwin said.

Board member Steve Fuglsang was more hesitant.

"My concern rests with the timing," Fuglsang said.

He said he is concerned Walker could be set up for failure with the loss of a full-time mechanic and the transportation director at the same time.

Fuglsang said he also is uncomfortable making a decision without having more information on participation in the district's early retirement incentive program and other administrative recommendations for budget reductions.

"I prefer to have as many cards to play with as possible, knowing we're never going to have them all," he said.

He said safety is his biggest concern, and he also wants to avoid cuts that will directly affect classrooms, "But I'm feeling pushed on a Dec. 19 vote when we don't have all those cards."

"I appreciate both their views, and I probably am in the middle a little bit," said board member Jennifer Naeve.

She asked Walker for his thoughts.

"I'm nowhere going to pretend to know anything about the job yet," Walker said, adding Thiltgen has been helpful explaining how the department runs.

Walker said bus drivers shouldn't notice much difference other than a different person answering the phone and said superintendent Peterson will be the first to know if he doesn't have enough time to manage transportation and maintenance duties.

Board member Kurt Rickard agreed the board wants to avoid cutting teachers but said he would like to see Thiltgen involved in a longer transition period and doesn't want to approve the change until the board has all the answers, not just an assurance things will work out.

"I think we should have all the answers before we approve it," Rickard said.

Naeve questioned whether it is fair to ask Thiltgen to train his replacement and said she'd like more information on efficiencies from combining departments.

Peterson said he doesn't have answers to all the questions but will have "a lot more information" at the December board meeting.

"I don't want to try to buffalo you," he said.

Board president Christy Kunz asked about a director salary comparison showing maintenance, transportation and operations director salaries at other schools in the area and within Central's athletic conference.

Maquoketa and Marion schools are of comparable size and have a combined director of operations instead of separate maintenance and transportation directors, with salary and benefits packages ranging from $59,446.51 to $128,259.32.

Kunz noted there is a large discrepancy between the two packages, and she questioned whether one person can handle managing both departments.

"Even with Keith in charge, I think we need one person specifically in charge of handling transportation," she said.

With the resignation of the district's vehicle mechanic, Peterson said he is looking at the possibility of shifting all repairs to outside shops rather than replacing Jones.

Irwin said he doesn't think the district will save money by eliminating the mechanic position, but Peterson and business manager Cindy McAleer disagreed, saying all tire repairs and most engine repairs already are outsourced.

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