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Board tackles reductions

WORTHINGTON -- Reduction options and resignations were the order of the day Thursday as the District 518 Board of Education met in special session.

The resignations of Worthington High School Principal Bruce Blatti, orchestra instructor Beth Habicht and choir instructor Kathryn Briggs were accepted as school board members met to consider budget cuts for 2006-2007 in the range of $500,000.

Blatti, a 20-year veteran at WHS, announced his retirement in a letter, saying "the time has come to pursue other interests and activities." Habicht's retirement comes at a time when the District 518 orchestra program is listed as a possible cut for 2007-2008. Briggs, who will be moving to Portland, Ore., has been with District 518 for eight years.

Setting a March 20 date for a second public meeting to hear citizen input on budget cuts, the board weighed in Thursday morning with questions and concerns. While considering the ramifications of cutting a building and grounds position, board member Joel Lorenz said he continues to hear from people wanting more administration reductions.

Responding to the option of shifting more responsibilities to administrative staff, Superintendent John Landgaard said, "We're getting the job done, but not at the level we should be getting it done. ... I don't believe anyone in our administration is afraid of the extra work, but there are only so many hours in the day."

Several board members jumped to the administration's defense.

"I would hate to see strong leadership gone," said Lowell Nystrom, warning against placing added burdens on administrative staff. "I know some of the public is clamoring for administration cuts, but I think we have to defend strong leadership, and strong leadership is very valuable."

"We have made significant cuts in our administration in the past. I think some people forget," Steve Schnieder said. "I think we've taken about as much as we can out of administration. I think we're doing very, very well at holding down our administrative costs, if people would only look at it.

"We just didn't wake up one morning and say, 'Gee, we've got a little extra money, let's hire someone else,' he added. "We never have done that, and we never will."

Linden Olsen asked whether more money could be saved by restructuring the administration.

"We continually look at how we can shift duties and make changes, so things can work system-wide," Landgaard replied.

At various times throughout the meeting, board members sounded off on possible changes included on a discussion list. Joel Wiltrout wondered how the district can hire an orchestra instructor to replace Habicht when the program is targeted for removal in 2007-2008. Parking fees for the high school parking lot were discussed along with possible changes to the block schedule.

Board members noted that many area residents have indicated a desire for more efficient busing service. Landgaard said that the district's present contractor continuously works to improve efficiency and goes the extra mile without asking for added reimbursement.

Olson warned against denying students the opportunity to attend special events.

"If we eliminate a bunch of these after-school buses, how many of these kids are going to be denied the opportunity of attending some of these activities that they are attending?" Olson asked. "What is the cost to the community of reducing or eliminating some of these programs?"

With the bus contract expiring at the conclusion of the next school year, board members agreed to consider possible changes at that time.

Also Thursday, the Board of Education agreed to pursue an operating referendum in November, with the dollar amount to be decided later.

Without a new referendum, District 518 is staring at another $700,000 in cuts for 2007-2008.

"Our job is to educate kids, not to let the school district suffer as it might," Wiltrout said. "I think we have that obligation this November."

Here is a list of possible budgetary changes for 2006-2007:

- Close the Prairie Lakes building, moving current programs to the West building (dollar change, $65,000)

- Terminate rental contracts with City of Worthington and Nobles County Integration Collaborative for space in West ($25,000).

- Increase rental fees for use of district grounds and facilities ($1,000).

- Reduce district costs for post-secondary enrollment options, meaning the district would negotiate options for costs of college courses taught in district classrooms ($10,000).

- Discontinue the Minnesota West auto mechanics course offerings at WHS ($30,000).

- Eliminate 2.0 full time equivalent elementary teacher positions ($90,000).

- Eliminate 1.0 FTE Middle School teacher position ($45,000).

- Eliminate 0.8 FTE high school teacher position ($30,000).

- Eliminate assistant special programs director position ($80,000).

- Eliminate 1.0 FTE media specialist position ($45,000).

- Eliminate 1.0 FTE translator position ($37,000).

- Reduce or eliminate activities coordinator position ($5,000 to $17,000).

- Eliminate FTE paraprofessional positions ($75,000).

- Reduce leadership funding ($6,000).

- Request a 1 percent staff development set-aside ($100,000).

- Increase season ticket prices for extra activities, making prices $6 for adults and $3 for students ($6,000).

- Minimum activity fee for all students K-12 of $10 ($22,000).

- Reduce FFA/summer extended contract ($5,000).

- Eliminate building and grounds position ($25,500 to $51,500)

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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