School cuts to follow 1990 procedures

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 12/13/00.

The last time the Paynesville Area School District passed major program cuts for budget reasons was in 1990, when the board eliminated $150,000 from their budget.

Now, a decade later, the school has started a budget reduction process to examine making $500,000 in cuts. The cuts amount to nearly six percent of the district's annual budget, which is currently projected for the 2000-01 school year at nearly $9 million.

The budget reduction process will start with the school administration making a list of potential areas for reduction in December and early January.

In January, the school board will review these proposals. A public hearing will be held on Thursday, Feb. 1, and the board will prioritize the list of cuts in February before making the final cuts at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

This process is based on the one used a decade ago. Two current board members were on the board in 1990 when the last cuts were made: Maurice Dosdall and Pat Flanders.

The $500,000 in cuts is based on the deficit budget for this school year in that amount. "Basically we're looking for ways we can reduce our budget and get it more in line with the way we receive revenue," said superintendent Howard Caldwell.

The district's deficit for the year has grown to a projected $950,000, but Caldwell doesn't expect the final numbers to be so far in the red.

Since the deficit budget was passed in June, school enrollment has fallen by 75 students from last year, which accounts for a $140,000 loss in revenue from budget projections.

The latest district budget figures indicate a $400,000 increase in expenditures. Caldwell said up to $300,000 of this is rollover funds in reserve accounts, such as staff development and compensatory revenue. This is money in the district's possesion that doesn't have to be spent.

A financial crisis in 1988 led to the cuts in 1990.

In 1988, the school board was presented with $200,000 in cuts, but after a couple widely-attended public hearings the school board voted not to make cuts on a 5-2 vote.

At the time, the district faced a general fund deficit of $174,000.

The board was presented with four petitions, with over 1,000 signatures from citizens, students, and farmers, opposing the cuts.

"...I get the feeling walking through the hallways here that you think the administration and board are jumping up and down with glee - that we're happy to make cuts like this," high school principal John Janotta told the crowd at a meeting. "None of us are. It's the hardest thing any of us have had to do...and I want you to understand it."

"I don't think the board had any idea about the types of programs and the things we would lose by cutting $200,000 out of our school system," he added.

Following Janotta's speech, Dosdall made the motion not to make cuts, which passed 5-2.

In June, district voters passed the first excess levy for $248 per pupil, which raised $186,000 each year.

One of the dissenting votes on the board was from Anthony Stalboerger, who prophetically said, "If the levy goes through, fine and dandy; I still think it isn't going to be enough. A couple years from now you're going to have to have another special referendum to make (the budget) come out again."

The district faced a general fund deficit of $464,000 in the 1989-90 school year and started to look at cutting $150,000 in November 1989.

Only a third of the deficit was deemed necessary to be reduced. The excess levy and increasing enrollment accounted for the rest of the shortfall.

The administration proposed $350,000 in cuts in January 1990, and more than 300 people attended a public hearing in February.

From that, the board prioritized the list of cuts and passed 28 items, reducing the budget by $150,000 in March. (Click here to see the list of cuts.)

Actually, 27 items were reductions, and one was an increase. Due to a large class at the time, one grade continually had an extra section, which led the board to eliminate a teacher in one grade and add one in the next.

A decade later over $80,000 of the cuts remain in effect. The largest permanent cuts were the elimination of one and a half custodians ($34,268) and moving driver's education from the high school curriculum to Community Education.

Another $86,000 in cuts have made their way back into the school budget. Caldwell said the budget for supplies and transportation has gone up in the past ten years.

Section reductions in each grade have been made based on class size. Kindergarten, for instance, was down to four sections before adding a fifth section this year.

The restructuring of the home economics department lasted until this year, when the time was added back.

The school board did meet once a month for a time, but found they were out of touch and reverted to twice monthly meetings.

Other items - cap and gown expense, advisors for prom, and funds for field trips and lyceums - have not returned to the general budget but are paid through the activity fund. Profits from the vending machines go into the activity fund.

The yearbook, on the other hand, is self-supporting through sales.

The upcoming budget reductions, according to Caldwell, could mean a different delivery of education in some cases, the reduction of some present services, and the elimination of some.

Caldwell said reductions are needed, in fact overdue, after three years of deficit budgets.

Since 1990, the school has returned some of the cuts and has added new programs, Caldwell said. "As enrollment started to decline, we didn't eliminate those programs," he explained.

Budget reductions cause mixed feelings, Caldwell said, because while the programs are good, the school needs to have a healthy bottom line.

Caldwell warned that the declining trend in enrollment not only indicates that cuts are needed this year but points toward more cuts in the future. Right now, the lowest student numbers are in the elementary school, while more typical numbers are present in the middle school and high school.

Students in grades 7-12 receive more reimbursement than elementary students. When declining numbers reach those grades, the financial impact on the district will be greater.

"We will have to continue to manage how we spend our money very carefully for several years," said Caldwell.

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