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Paynesville Press - March 30, 2005

School board reviews budget cut proposal

By Michael Jacobson

School administration presented an initial proposal of budget reductions to the Paynesville Area School Board last week.

The district, facing continued declining enrollment, has targeted $200,000 in budget reductions for the 2005-06 school year. The proposal from administration would reduce next year's school budget by $178,650, largely by not replacing some retiring staff members.

The district has seven staff members who have submitted formal retirement requests so far: principal John Janotta, five teachers, and one secretary. The administration proposal calls for not hiring replacements for three of these teachers (a projected savings of $160,000) and for not hiring another secretary (a projected savings of $22,700).

With a total of $182,700 in spending reductions, administration also recommended one sixth-hour addition (having a teacher add a sixth teaching hour). This would cost $4,050, making the total proposed reductions $178,650.

Making budget reductions through staff retirements - through "attrition," meaning simply not hiring replacements - is a bloodless way, much easier than having to terminate employees, said superintendent Todd Burlingame.

During the board discussion last week, concern centered around the administration's proposal to close the middle school office.

Starting this year, the district eliminated a principal position, which has left a secretary alone in the middle school office. Administration suggested closing this office - and possibly using the space for the Community Education office - last year, too, but board members felt that the middle school office was too important to close.

If the board agrees not to hire a new secretary, whether or not to close the middle school office is simply a matter of where to have three school secretaries. Administration has argued that one should be at the elementary school, and two should be at the high school, where the principal oversees grades 6-12.

Board members, though, did not agree with eliminating the middle school office last year, feeling it was necessary for the middle school students to have a closer office and that the office was needed for communication.

Burlingame said the administration will review the pros and cons of the office locations and bring that list back to the board for its meeting on Tuesday, April 12. The board is expected to continue its discussions about the proposed budget cuts at that meeting and then make a final decision at their meeting on Tuesday, April 26, according to Burlingame.

The district is also considering restructuring its Title I program, in the face of reduced funds, and is considering an increase in its fees for all-day, everyday kindergarten.

The district continues to make budget reductions in order to compensate for revenue losses from declining enrollment. For the past eight years, incoming kindergarten classes have averaged around 75 students instead of classes of 100 like previously. As a result, the district has classes of 75 in grades K-7, and classes of 100 in grades 8-12.

As these classes of 100 graduate, replaced by kindergarten classes of 75, the district loses 25 students per year. This spring, for example, the district will graduate 94 seniors, to be replaced by only 75 kindergarten students next fall.

The district loses even more in pupil units - which are used as the basis of state funding - since seniors are weighted more heavily in the pupil-unit formula.

This year, for instance, the district has 1,268.56 pupil units, which brings $5,836,645 in basic state funding at $4,601 per pupil unit. Next year, the district's pupil units are projected to drop to 1240.57, which would generate only $5,707,863 in basic state funding, a decline of $128,782. The Minnesota Legislature is debating an increase to the state funding formula for schools - (see the related story) - but the district has not assumed any increase until it actually is approved.

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