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Paynesville Press - April 19, 2006

School district proposes spending increase for 06-07

By Michael Jacobson

After five straight years of budget cuts, the Paynesville Area School District is proposing increasing its budget slightly, by $42,000, for the 2006-07 school year.

This amount represents less than a one-percent increase to the district's overall expenditure budget, which is currently budgeted at $10.23 million for 2005-06. But, over the past five years, the district has cut a total of more than $1.5 million from its budget.

"We're going to see if we can get by one year (without budget cuts) and breathe," superintendent Todd Burlingame told the school board last week, after presenting the administration's budget recommendations to the board. "We're kind of a skeleton crew."

For the past three years, the district has used retirements as the main basis for most of its budget cuts, simply by not replacing all the teachers. Budget cuts from attrition are thought to be a nicer way to reduce the budget than handing out pink slips to less-experienced teachers.

This year, however, the only retirement (second grade teacher Chris Quale) is at the elementary school, which has already born a large share of the budget cuts due to declining enrollment in the younger grades. With no retirements at the middle school/high school, opportunities for cuts there were minimal.

A number of teachers, eight or nine, could qualify for full retirement and opt to retire after the 2006-07 school year, Burlingame told the Press last week, and that might provide a better opportunity to trim payroll by attrition.

Budget cuts have been needed due to declining enrollment (fewer students means less state reimbursement) and to rebuild a general fund balance for the district.

As of July 2005 - figures from its last audit - the district had a fund balance of $845,000 in its general fund, its highest since 1998-99.

The school district also got a four-percent increase in state funding, for 2005-06 and again for 2006-07, approved during last year's legislative session, which should add $230,000 in extra revenue this year and more next year.

The budget adjustments presented by administration to the board last week call for the addition of two teachers - a full-time special educaton teacher (half time in the elementary school and half time in the middle/high school) and a 0.829 FTE math teacher (60 percent in the middle school and 40 percent in the high school) - and other staffing increases, including increasing the hours of an English teacher and increasing sixth class assignments. (By contract, teachers teach five periods, have one period for prep, and another for supervisory duty; having a teacher teach six periods, in lieu of a duty period, calls for additional reimbursement.)

While the school board is expected to get more detailed numbers from administration at its next board meeting on Tuesday, April 25 - including a demonstration of the district office's new financial software program, which is expected to help the district's budgeting (the preliminary numbers call for a $69,550 spending increase for teacher additions); a $7,950 addition for sixth classes; and $2,020 addition for office restructuring; while the only budget decreases are $37,450 for elementary staffing (where two long-time teachers will be replaced by less-experienced (and less-costly) teachers in 2006-07).

These would total a $42,070 budget increase for 2006-07.

This represents an initial proposal by administration to the school board, which received this list with minimal discussion. One question asked last week was board member Bonnie Strobbe wondering about elementary staffing levels and being told that administration is proposing keeping the same teaching staffing levels: eight total in kindergarten and first grade; and three per grade in grades 3-5, totalling 17 full-time classroom teachers.

This year's first grade class contains around 75 students, so if staffing is kept the same, this would mean having nearly 25 students per class in second grade next year.

The budget proposal by the administration calls for the addition of two college-credit classes for 2006-07: calculus and macroeconomics. The school board has set having more college-credit classes as a priority for the district. (Currently, the district offers a college-credit class in Honors English, with a rotating credit, literature one year and writing the next, giving students two opportunities to earn college credit.)

The calculus class is especially necessary since the district started teaching algebra to eighth graders four years ago. With these students now juniors, they would not have another math offering next year without the addition of calculus.

The district is still looking at adding more college-credit classes in future years.

The budget additions also include limiting high school students to only one study hall. A number of students were taking two study halls per day, and new secondary principal Lorie Floura raised this as a concern to the board last fall. Students were registered in six classes this winter, creating several new class offerings: mixed media, consumer science, and aerobic dance. Other proposed new classes include web design (replacing an older business class) and equine study (which would be rotated in a two-year cycle in the ag department).

If approved by the board, the only way students could take more than one study hall next year is if they opt to take either school to work (working at a business or farm) or peer mentoring (volunteering with a younger class) for credit.

Administration also has proposed adding two new classes in the middle school - Spanish 7, an introductory course in Spanish, and Humanities 7 and 8, which would be electives for students not in band or choir. Students not in band or choir currently have multiple study halls for part of the year.

The board is expected to continue discussions about administration's budget proposal for 2006-07 at their next meeting on Tuesday, April 25.

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