Public meeting on Sidney School District finances planned for 5:30 p.m. March 11 at Sidney High School

SIDNEY -- In a letter written to the community and Sidney School District parents, District Superintendent Andrew Farber is asking the public for feedback on making budget cuts.

"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 percent of levied taxes over the last three years, resulting in an average loss of $325,000 annually to our general fund," Farber said in the letter to the public.

He said the environment has led to the District to operating in a 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," Farber said in the letter.

Farber said in addition to the loss in State funding, the District is facing a projected $600,000 loss in state aid for the 2024-2025 school year, totaling $850,000 in lost revenue since June 2023.

He said about 80 percent of the District's funds are allocated to staff and related academic programming. Farber said the District offers competitive salaries and benefits, essential in the ongoing teacher shortage. He said the District is applying for federal grants to offset personnel costs. Even in a budget shortfall, the District is working to maintain staff and course offerings, according to Farber. Staff and administration have worked together to reduce monthly spending by 1-3 percent since June 2023, and have made cuts to minor services. The district is also working to identify additional expenses that can be cut or reduced. The efforts have saved the district $250,000. 

"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," he said in the letter.

The District is considering an ongoing decrease of discretionary and administrative expenses, streamlining district support systems, adjusting staffing levels, and the potential closure of North Elementary. Additionally, the North Elementary principal position will not be filled; rather, the district will leverage the skills of current building principals to drive academic progress and possible facility enhancements for third and fourth grades.

Cool Kids Club: The district has also 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.  

Transportation options: Nebraska state statute 79-611 mandates that school districts transport students residing four miles or more outside of 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.

"Before finalizing any decision on bussing, or district services, community feedback is essential to ensure that the changes district staff and administration make meet the needs of the Sidney community. It is crucial to get feedback from school district families and participation in this process is greatly appreciated," Farber said

The Sidney Public Schools board of education plans to hold the March board meeting 5:30 p.m. March 11 in the high school auditorium to encourage conversation. The district will adhere to all public speaking guidelines outlined by Sidney Public Schools.