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School's budget ax falls

WORTHINGTON -- Item by item, and on a show of hands, the District 518 Board of Education reduced the 2006-2007 budget by $526,333 Tuesday night.

Working from a list compiled by the administration, the board went beyond the recommended $498,000 with the stated hope that an influx of funds next year will save the difficult process from being repeated for 2007-2008.

"It was asked what kind of affect these cuts have on students. And I think students are one of them -- the possibility for larger class sizes, the possibility of eliminating some elective classes," summarized board member Linden Olson, who added that the cuts might also negatively impact teacher and community morale.

"We need to think very hard and long for what we want to have for our school in the future," he said.

If an operating referendum expected to be on the November ballot fails to pass, the district won't have a choice next year but to make even greater reductions. But for now, the necessary 2006-2007 cuts -- each one approved by the votes of at least five of the seven board members Tuesday night -- have been made.

They include, in order of consideration (with estimated dollar savings in parentheses):

l Staff development set-aside of 1 percent. Approved unanimously. ($100,000)

l Close the Prairie Lakes building and terminate contracts with the City of Worthington and Nobles County Integration Collaborative for space in West Elementary. Approved unanimously. ($40,000)

l Eliminate Assistant Special Programs Director position. Approved unanimously. ($80,000)

l Reduce leadership funding. Approved with six votes. ($6,000)

l Eliminate 1.0 full time equivalent (FTE) media specialist position. Approved with six votes. ($45,000)

l Eliminate 1.0 FTE Middle School teacher position. Approved unanimously. ($45,000)

l Eliminate 2.0 FTE elementary teacher positions. Approved with six votes. ($90,000)

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

l Increase extra activity participation fees. Approved with five votes. ($10,000)

l Reduce activities coordinator position. Approved unanimously. ($5,000)

l Eliminate 2.0 FTE paraprofessional positions. Approved unanimously. ($30,000)

l Discontinue Minnesota West auto mechanics course offerings at WHS and reduce district costs for post-secondary enrollment options. Approved unanimously. ($40,000)

l Eliminate building and grounds position effective Nov. 1. Approved with five votes. ($34,333)

Spared from the administration's yellow sheet of possible budgetary changes was the elimination of a 0.8 FTE high school teacher position ($30,000), an increase in season ticket prices for extra activities ($6,000), elimination of a 1.0 FTE translator position ($37,500) and spending of the general fund balance.

The option of increasing season ticket prices failed by one vote, with four members voting in favor. Eliminating the entire activities coordinator position was briefly considered; instead, the board opted to cut the half-time position further. Though he was unsuccessful in saving the building and grounds position, board member Steve Schnieder reiterated his opposition to the reduction due to a concern about potential liability issues.

Board member Lori Dudley, noting a strong community sentiment to reduce administration costs, asked after the reductions were made, "What are we saying, specifically, are the administrative cuts? Because the public wants to know what are the administrative cuts."

Superintendent John Landgaard replied that the Assistant Special Programs Director position, the building and grounds position and the activities coordinator position all should be considered part of the administration.

"When you look at that, you're looking at approximately, conservatively, about $130,000 out of the $500,000 reductions. Percentage-wise, you're looking at about 25 percent of the cuts coming out of administrative," Landgaard said, adding that the cuts will place added pressure on the administration to assist teachers and students effectively.

"What I'm saying is that when you look at administrative cuts, it is not always what's best for kids. And that's where I'm coming from," Landgaard said.

In other action Tuesday, the Board of Education voted not to send personnel to an upcoming model schools conference in Florida. A decision in favor would have authorized the district to spend $20- to $25,000 for eight to 10 people to attend the conference.

Schnieder said sending staff to the conference would "send the wrong message" at a time when significant reductions were being made. Olson disagreed, saying such conferences are the places where good ideas come from. The motion not to attend was approved 6-1.

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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