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District 518 hopes for input

WORTHINGTON -- When the District 518 Board of Education meets in regular session Feb. 21, it will begin blazing a budget reduction trail for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.

That's why Superintendent John Landgaard believes it's important for local residents to attend next week's public meeting.

"It's their education system," Landgaard said. "They have expectations. And now it's their opportunity to define what we're going to have as an educational system. ... That's what we're looking for -- some more buy-in and ownership."

The meeting to gather public input will take place at 7 p.m. Monday in the Worthington High School cafeteria. The school board consensus is that $500,000 will need to be trimmed from the 2006-2007 budget. Without a new operating referendum in place for 2007-2008, even deeper cuts will need to be made for the following year.

Since a $900-per-pupil-unit operating referendum was voted down last November, Landgaard and several board members have called for greater public participation. Landgaard suggested that residents provide direction before District 518 spends thousands of dollars on another failed attempt.

"I think we need to know that the public has an interest in that," Landgaard said. "Why would we want to spend about $15,000 that we would otherwise spend in the classroom if another referendum is going to fail? Why waste people's time and energy when that money could be better spent dealing with the immediate needs of kids?"

According to school records, District 518 spent approximately $19,000 on the 2005 referendum campaign that failed to pass. Nearly 55 percent voted no.

A preliminary list of possible budget reduction measures for 2006-2007 includes higher fees for extra-curriculars and personnel cuts. Without a new infusion of funds, the superintendent warned, more severe program and personnel cuts will be in the crosshairs for 2007-2008.

"Then there's not a lot of leeway. Then it gets difficult," he said.

Landgaard is hoping citizen input Monday will help provide a clearer road map. District 518 leaders hope ideas and suggestions for reductions will be forthcoming. The preliminary list of reduction options is available at every school building, and board members say they are willing to consider suggestions not listed.

Participants at the public meeting, which will be informal in nature, will be asked to prioritize reduction options and whether they are in favor of having another referendum vote this year. Following a 20-minute presentation, participants will be divided into small discussion groups. Their ideas, written and otherwise, will then be forwarded to the decision-makers.

The informal process, Landgaard said, "allows everybody to participate in the meeting without them having to speak out in front of everybody there. It's less an intimidating structure than a hearing structure."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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