Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 10, 2000

Budget cuts ahead for LP School

By Dale Kovar

The budget axe will be falling at Lester Prairie Public Schools soon.

A financial report presented to the Lester Prairie School Board Tuesday showed that if the district operates next year the same as it has this year, it will run $225,000 in the red, even with the excess levy referendum funds.

The reason is primarily a declining enrollment - 44 fewer students in March 2000 than at the end of the 1999 school year.

About half of that difference was due to a larger senior class graduating than the size of the kindergarten class entering the school system. That factor is significant because state funding for high school students is higher than for elementary.

Another group of students lost is those who open enrolled to another district to take advantage of an English as a Second Language program, which Lester Prairie does not offer.

Supt. James Redfield said state funding increases over the years have not kept up with rising expenses.

"In the next two to three years, we have to reduce expenses to get back on level," he said.

The board set a general target of at least $150,000 in cuts for next year. Principals are to make some recommendations for the board's next meeting.

"There are some things we can do, but I don't consider that we have a lot of fat," Elementary Principal Richard Hartshorn said.

He said the Title I program will likely have to take some cuts.

Dean of Students Joe Miller mentioned the proposed six classes per day instead of seven, and there is potential for reducing some half-time positions and para-professionals.

"We're still not going to get the numbers you're looking at," Miller said. "If you're going to cut $100,000 or $200,000, there are going to be people who are upset. There aren't places that we have a lot of extra things. It will cut curriculum because you will have to cut people."

Board member Nancy Krull asked to have a few pros and cons listed with each proposed cut to help the board evaluate what would "make sense."

Board member Barry Kyllo said, "We talked scenarios a couple years ago and wanted a viable school here. When we have to cut curriculum, we lose more kids, and then have to cut some more. How are we going to keep it around?"

Responding to a comment about "realistic" cuts, Kyllo asked: "Whether it's realistic or not, do we have a choice? Can we run in the red constantly?"

"Not constantly," Redfield answered.

The board will pick up the issue again at its next meeting Monday, April 17.

Elementary parking

Board member Fred Blaser, also Lester Prairie's police chief, presented a proposed parking plan to improve safety along the elementary area on the west side of the school.

Generally, it would eliminate five parking spaces to make an area for loading and unloading only.

The goal is to eliminate double parking, which is illegal anyway, Blaser pointed out.

The board also mentioned other possibilities such as diagonal parking or making that portion of Fir St. a one-way, but those were dropped in favor of the original proposal.

Still, it will have to go through the city council for approval since it is a city street.

Blaser was directed to approach the council with the plan. The hope is to have the new arrangement in place for the beginning of the next school year.

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