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Paynesville Press - March 03, 2004

Board receives preliminary budget cut proposal from administration

By Michael Jacobson

School administrators presented a preliminary proposal to the school board last week of budget reductions for the 2004-05 school year.

According to its financial plan - which matches budget reductions with projected losses in revenue due to declining enrollment - the school district would like to save approximately $200,000 in the school year that starts in September 2004 and ends in June 2005.

The administration proposed to the board last week that this could be done by cutting one principal, one teacher in the elementary school, and one teacher in the middle/high school. The administration did not include dollar figures for these reductions, promising more specifics in March.

The board has already agreed on the reduction of one principal, having spent time this school year preparing for a new school organization next year, when instead of three principals the district will only have two.

Last week, the administration fine-tuned their K-5 and 6-12 principal proposal. The K-5 principal - expected to be Deb Gillman - will keep curriculum coordination and staff development, large tasks as the district continues to work towards improving test scores and meeting new state standards and federal requirements. The K-5 principal will be helped in curriculum coordination by a teacher for one period each day, using a duty period.

The administration also proposed bringing back department chairs, which should ease curriculum coordination as well. Department chairs were cut a couple years ago.

Both principals would be helped by having another staff person be in charge of calling and arranging substitute teachers. Paynesville was unusual in having principals still call for subs, said elementary principal Todd Burlingame, who will take over for retiring superintendent Howard Caldwell in July. (Because Burlingame would have to implement these cuts, Caldwell had Burlingame present them to the board last week.)

Because of Caldwell's retirement and the promotion of Burlingame to superintendent, the elimination of one principal position was done solely by retaining current staff.

The cut of one middle/high school teacher likely can be done through attrition, too, the board learned last week, since sixth grade teacher Bob Bowden has announced his retirement at the end of the year.

Right now, smaller class sizes in the district start in sixth grade, which has around 80 students. (Grades 7-12 in the district still have closer to 100 students per grade.) Already this year, sixth grade was divided into three sections, instead of four previously, due to the smaller enrollment. Next year, it is likely that seventh grade will be divided into three sections.

Other possible staffing cuts in the middle and high school will be known after the master schedule - using student enrollments from registration - is figured, said high school principal John Janotta, who warned that as smaller grades move through the middle and high school over the next six years, more staffing cuts will be required.

In fact, the administration included a five-year proposal for budget cuts to the school board. That plan includes eliminating seven teaching positions in the middle/high school over the next five years.

The preliminary administration plan also includes keeping the middle school office open next year, though it will be staffed only by a secretary, not by a principal. Administrators propose closing the middle school office in 2004-05, running K-6 and 7-12 schools that year.

The administration did not know yet how a teaching position would be reduced in the elementary school. The district will not know kindergarten enrollments until March (after round-up). The district is also still working on implementing a multiage classroom in the elementary school.

The administration proposal included no changes to the fee structure and keeping supply budgets the same in 2004-05, with the exception of adding $3,000 for athletic uniform purchase. (In the last master agreement settlement, the coaches agreed to a pay freeze for two years in the hopes that the district would increase its athletic budget.)

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