Projected school deficit grows to $1.17 million

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 4/4/01.

The school board took several actions last week to bolster its ailing bottom line in the wake of making $500,000 in budget cuts. this winter.

The largest part of those budget reductions was in the teaching staff. The cuts eliminated the equivalent of 7.75 full-time teachers. With retirements, the district had to terminate contracts with four teachers Mary Janotta, Brad Nepsund, Mark Syvertson, and Melinda Zachman.

The board also proposed reducing high school art teacher Carol Lura's position from full-time to half time. Lura, as a tenured teacher, has the option of requesting a hearing in the matter. After that, the board could make a final decision.

The board voted to keep elementary music teacher Charlene Strand on as a full time employee. The administration recommendation was to reduce that position to 0.8 full-time equivalent (FTE). One less section in the second, third, and fourth grades reduced the work load for elementary music, according to superintendent Howard Caldwell.

The board opted to keep it as a full-time position, rather than lose Strand. "We have an excellent teacher here," said Pat Flanders, school board chairman. "We should try to keep her."

Since the district cut $512,000, over the goal of $500,000, they could keep Strand on full time and still have reached their goal, Flanders added. Caldwell still feels that the district needs to further reduce its budget, especially in the face of a rising deficit for the year.

In a light moment, Flanders added that this was the one fun decision of the night for the board.

The board didn't have nearly as much fun when they terminated the other teachers. The board members took turns making and seconding the motions for termination, which by law must be done individually.

Rising expenses
Last June, the school board approved a $500,000 deficit budget, the fourth in a row for the district. That deficit had grown to $900,000 by November, when the budget cutting process started.

Last Tuesday, March 27, Caldwell presented an updated budget for the year showing a $1,172,000 deficit, which the board approved.

The main culprit in the rising deficit is increased expenditures. While the revenues have increased a mere $34,000 since the original budget, expenditures have increased by nearly $575,000.

The largest increase (click here for a full list) is the health and safety levy. The district can issue a special levy for health and safety projects. The state pays a little over a third of this levy, with local taxpayers picking up the remaining two-thirds, Caldwell said.

The health and safety levy was used to make corrections required after a state fire marshal visit two years ago, according to Caldwell, as well as to improve ventilation and other work in the basement lockerrooms. This work was done in conjunction with the school building project. The health and safety levy was used in that project as a way to get extra revenue to help that project's tight budget. The district has had to pay for these expenses already, but won't get the money from the levy until the next school year. In other words, eventually, that money will be repaid to the general fund, but for now some of that money has been used to support the project. The next largest item in the rising expenditures should also be a wash eventually on the general fund. The Aid Anticipation Certificate is a funding technique where the district borrows against future state aid. Caldwell said the school should generate more in interest income than the $95,516 in expenses and interest that the certificate costs. The district has an extra $87,000 in compensatory revenue and other carry-over funds. This is actually money that is in their accounts now, but shows up as an expenditure because it is available to spend. Other rising expenditures include energy costs ($70,000), wage and insurance increases ($25,792), a new transportation contract ($25,752), administration raises ($16,461), and special education costs ($16,292). Athletic fees The board also approved raising the extracurricular fees for junior high and high school athletics, which enabled them to restore $15,000 to the athletic supply budget for 2001-02.

For cheerleading and danceline and all sports, except hockey, fees were raised from $15 to $35 per participant per sport for grades seven and eight and from $20 to $45 per participant for grades 9-12. The family maximum was raised from $120 to $215.

Hockey participation fees remain at $200 per participant, which does not count against the family maximum.

A district-wide cut of 25 percent of supplies was included in the budget reductions. The district expects the extra revenue from these increased fees to pay for a larger athletic budget, as long as participation levels remain steady. The board, therefore, voted to reinstate the athletic budget to $63,500, which is the same as the budget for this school year.

The board has also discussed charging participation on other extracurricular activities that currently aren't charged, such as speech team, knowledge bowl, and marching band. The board told Caldwell last week that it would like to decide on this before the school year ends.

Building project
The latest building project update indicated that the auditorium and fitness center addition looks to be $66,000 in the red, Steve Becker, construction manager, told the board. Becker said they hope to have about $15,000 left in unspent construction support, but that will not offset the entire deficit.

The school board appointed a committee of Deb Glenz, Fern Roberg, and Gretchen O'Fallon to start a second fund-raising effort. The district has already raised almost $4,000 in donations for the project to help cover the overrun.

Return to Archives