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Paynesville Press - February 20, 2002

School revises list of possible budget reductions

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Area School Board made three revisions to the potential budget cut list at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Following the meeting, the board members rated the potential cuts individually and turned them into the district office by Friday. The rankings will be compiled this week and used on Tuesday, Feb. 26, to make the final decision on the budget cuts.

The district needs to cut $500,000 from its general fund budget for the 2002-03 school year, as per its statutory operating debt plan mandated by the state. Proposed Budget Reductions

First, the board removed the possible reduction of a half-time kindergarten teacher from the list. At the meeting, the board approved offering all-day, everyday kindergarten next year, which will require three full-time kindergarten teachers, making a staffing reduction impossible.

The school will be charging parents to help cover the cost of the additional staffing for kindergarten and will be offering half-day, everyday kindergarten for parents who opt not to pay for all-day, everyday kindergarten.

The board approved to not provide noon bus transportation for kindergarten, though, meaning the district will save $27,000 by eliminating the noon transportation.

Second, the board eliminated the proposal to limit bus transportation to students who live within two miles of their respective school building. This would have allowed the district's bus contractor to eliminate three bus routes in 2002-03, a savings of $25,000.

Without the limitation on ridership, one bus route can be eliminated for sure, a savings of $8,300.

Eliminating transportation within two miles of the school building would have affected 233 students, including 181 elementary students. In some cases, buses would have picked up middle/high school students but not elementary students, and vice versa, because the two-mile limit would have been measured from the respective school building.

"It's pretty silly, in my mind, to put up with the hassle of all that for that kind of money," said superintendent Howard Caldwell about the proposal to limit transportation to students,

Several board members have expressed support for voluntary waivers from parents instead of the blanket two-mile limitation on transportation. To reduce more bus routes, more seats need to be freed on the buses, and the thinking behind the waivers is that students who don't ride the bus anyway could voluntarily give up their seats.

One concern is that the waiver could be revoked, which would cause havoc to the bus routes. A new idea at the Feb. 12 board meeting would be to tie the waiver to the student parking fee, which might reduce the likelihood of parents rescinding a waiver.

The board has proposed charging students $50 per year for a parking pass. A suggestion to the board last week was to cut in half, or even waive the fee, if that student signs a waiver on bus transportation. A savings of $25 or $50 would be an incentive for students and parents to honor the bus waiver for the entire school year, as requesting bus transportation, even for a single day, would cause them to have to pay the full amount for a parking pass.

Third, the elimination of the middle school principal position was added to the potential cut list. This cut, worth $63,508, includes only the 0.68 FTE principal duties. The 0.32 FTE duties as curriculum coordinator would be retained, according to superintendent Howard Caldwell.

With these changes, the potential cut list totals $628,455, of which $500,000 in cuts need to be approved on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Caldwell also told the board last week that the district intends to use federal funds to replace a section of first grade. A proposal on the cut list is to reduce first grade sections from four to three, which would increase class sizes to 25-28 students.

In order to qualify for federal funds, though, the program must first be eliminated, so Caldwell urged board members to rate this item as a high priority to cut, with the intention of reinstating it with federal dollars later.

Caldwell said he was confident that the district would receive as much in federal Title 1 funds next year as this year and that part of this money could be used for class-size reductions.

"We have to cut it to reinstate it," explained board chair Pat Flanders.

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