District 88 OKs cuts of $1.1 million
Kremena Spengler, New Ulm Journal, March 16, 2012 –
NEW ULM – The District 88 School Board Thursday night approved approximately $1.1 million in operating budget adjustments, in an attempt to balance next year’s budget.
“The adjustments are necessary to bring projected revenues and expenditures for 2012-13 closer to balancing,” said Superintendent Harold Remme in a prepared introductory statement.
The recommended actions are the result of “a lack of adequate state support for education,” the failure of a Nov. 8, 2011, local levy referendum, and previous discussions at five work sessions over three months, recapped Remme.
“In preparing the proposed list of reductions, the administrative team examined several alternatives and the impact of each alternative, as they attempted to reach a dollar amount within the framework established by the school board.”
“I can speak for every administrator by saying that the task of developing recommendations was distasteful and depressing. Each administrator wants to ‘do more’ and provide a learning situation which maximizes student opportunity in the classroom and outside the classroom.”
“Once the adjustments are identified, the next challenge will be to develop an implementation plan. … Once again, staff will be called upon to do more with less. Unfortunately, there is no other immediate alternative.”
The budget adjustments fall into five broad categories: personnel, activity programs, transfers/donations, transportation, and miscellaneous items.
Personnel (about $900,000)
Cutting 10 teachers ($500,000).
An early retirement incentive for teachers ($200,000 per year, based on the difference in the cost of experienced and young teachers) and possibly for non-teaching staff (amount of savings unknown).
Reorganization of clerical personnel in each building ($90,000).
Restructuring media coordination and computer lab staffing ($50,000).
Restructuring custodial duties ($33,000).
A three-day furlough for non-unionized employees (such as district-wide administrators and staff in the superintendent’s and business office, about $13,500).
Activity Department (about $80,000)
Increasing athletic participation fees for grades 9-12 by $20 ($16,840).
Increasing fine art participation fees for grades 9-12 (choir, jazz band, musical, Payne Street Singers, play, Knowledge Bowl, speech; $2,060).
Increasing athletic participation fees for grades 7-8 by $26 (rounding them up to $100) and fine arts fees for grades 7-8 by $20 ($7,460).
Charging students on free and reduced lunches fees at a rate of 50 percent, rather than no fees (scholarships would be available) ($3,400).
Delaying uniform purchases ($12,000).
Eliminating coach busing ($1,600).
Collecting admission for track and softball ($3,000).
Increasing fees for FFA/FCCLA membership by $10 ($500).
Implementing a fair share fee for co-op-sponsored activities ($8,000-$12,000).
Seeking a volunteer Yearbook/photography adviser ($8,000).
A Partners for Success plan of paid ads in programs, on the web site, electronic signs, posted banners, etc. ($15,000).
A $50,000 trust-fund transfer to buy textbooks.
Using funds raised by the Friends of District 88 to offset additional staff cuts (some $31,000 have been raised at this stage, with a major fundraising event coming up in April).
Cutting a bus route ($38,000).
Initiating a parking fee of $25 for the main campus parking lot ($7,500 if half the lots are paid)
Increasing fees for use of school facilities ($5,000).
Reducing equipment purchases ($10,000).
Adjustment in River Bend administrative fees due to enrollment and other changes ($8,000).
Moving graduation to the high school rather than renting a city facility and allowing only four tickets per graduate ($3,000).
While most cuts passed without comment, having been discussed in detail during the work sessions, a few elicited some reaction:
Stressing that it is always “traumatic” to cut staff, board member Patricia Hoffman urged the board to declare its intention to make staff re-instatement its top priority if funds become available in the future.
Board Chair Duane Winter voiced his fear that, in view of the lack of settlements with unions, as well as insurance-costs and other unknowns, the district is unable to fully predict personnel expenditures for next year.
He noted that the danger of statutory operating debt may be closer than many people imagine, if the district continues to spend down its reserves.
Board member Carol Ackerson urged that any media services restructuring take place in a way that would allow each building to keep its own media specialist, rather than sharing specialists among buildings.
Board member Patti Gramentz expressed a preference for giving paid parking a full trial: charging for all, rather than half, the student-assigned spots. She and others qualified that the board can always backtrack if the idea proves impractical.
The board showed reluctance to discontinue the half-time position of instructional improvement coordinator ($15,000).
This staff member is key in implementing the professional learning community concept (a staff development initiative for teachers), said board members.
In one comment, Patricia Hoffman said some studies show that staff development has an even bigger impact on student learning than class size.
The board also indicated reluctance to discontinue district-specific testing at the high school ($4,500).
Administrators have said in the past that this testing provides better data about student progress, and how to adjust teaching, than state-mandated tests.
The board may look at the matter again in the future, as state tests get more sophisticated.
While an application for an alternative calendar (commonly referred to as a four-day student week) is unlikely to gain state approval in the absence of settlements with unions, board members urged further consideration of the positive ideas that have emerged during alternative-calendar deliberation.
In a glimmer of good news, Business Manager Myrna Meunier reported that the district will receive some $285,000 more than expected for special education this year, as result of state adjustments. The money will help reduce this year’s budget deficit.