School budget cuts less painful than in the past

By Meghan Gutzwiller
Times Correspondent

Superintendent Jim Johnson revealed the school district’s budget adjustment plan for fiscal year 2013 Monday evening, and the $350,000 budget reduction proved to be less of a daunting challenge than the budgets of recent past.

“We’ve taken a little bit of a different approach to this and I think our outcome is extremely positive,” Johnson said.

First, Johnson said the district found nearly $965,000 in revenue in many places that prevented cutting, and a long-awaited increase in student growth helped pave the way. Reversing the trend of flat student growth for many years, Johnson said the district has seen increases to their weighted average daily membership (WADMs), which he said will bring in an additional $56,000 for next year’s budget as a conservative estimate. The district will also receive an extra $200,000 next year for literacy aid because of a recent legislative change spearheaded by the republican state legislature, and they will apply $300,000 of special education excess cost from 2010 that is currently sitting in a reserved account toward next year’s budget.

Another revenue source for next year is three additional sections of all-day kindergarten: one at Little Mountain and two at Pinewood, though 20 Little Mountain parents have agreed to have their kindergartners bused to Pinewood in order to do the all-day program, since space constraints at Little Mountain would have curtailed this opportunity otherwise.

“As we grow, we are growing on the east side of town and not the west,” he said. “This is going to be an issue we will have to address in 2013-14.”

Though the fees for all-day kindergarten only sustain the program and do not bring in additional money beyond that, it will pay for the increase in staff needed for the expanded all-day program. With this expansion, Johnson said he was excited to find that more kindergarteners will be in the all-day program than in the half-day program next school year.

“It’s exciting to see so many parents choosing to invest in all-day kindergarten,” Liz Leitch-Sell said.

The district will save over $173,000 next year with the retirement of five long- standing teachers at the end of this year, who will be replaced by newer teachers. Due to lagging enrollment, the district will also save money by cutting a .2 full-time equivalent staff member in the high school’s Spanish program.

Between the additional revenue and lower staffing costs, Johnson said they have money to add 1.5 teachers at Little Mountain and 2 teachers at Pinewood to maintain the class sizes promised when they passed the last school referendum. They are also adding 1.5 kindergarten teachers for the expansion in all-day programming as well as a reading specialist at the high school. After setting aside $185,000 in a contingency fund, the balance sheet comes out as a $352,110 budget reduction for 2012-13.

The budget adjustment passed 5-0.

In other business:

*Approved a $1.1 million capital budget for 2012-2013. Some of the bigger items in the capital budget include replacing a boiler at Pinewood Elementary, replacing lights on the football field – which are currently so out of date that Johnson said electrical companies refuse to go up there to change out lights,- tennis court resurfacing, replacing Eastview’s roof and repairing brick/flashing, updating math textbooks and technology upgrades.

*Heard a presentation from Family and Consumer Science teachers Karen Smith, Amy Friedrichs and Alyssa Ambrosious and students on the school’s Farm to School program. The FACS program received a $17,500 SHIP grant to implement the Farm to School program to plant indoor gardens and incorporate technology into the FACS curriculum. Middle school students spoke to the board about their experiences and knowledge acquired through Farm to School.

*Renewed the district’s membership in the Minnesota State High School League.

*Awarded Eastview’s re-roofing bid to Roof One.

*Heard a student representative update from senior Laura Sawatzke. She talked about the school’s recent teacher appreciation breakfast, advanced placement testing, senior scholarship review and the upcoming commencement ceremonies for the class of 2012.

*Heard an update from Johnson multiple issues such as the progress of a current extension of Hoglund Transportation’s busing contract for another two years. He said details are being ironed out with Hoglund and he will bring more information forward as available. He also briefed the board on changes to the Mississippi 8 athletic conference. With the conference currently sitting at seven schools and Becker leaving next year, expansion is being explored. Invitations have been extended to Chisago Lakes and North Branch to join the conference.

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