Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 8, 2000

Budget cut process continues for LP school

By Jane Otto

"It's very uncomfortable to have our feet held to the fire, but that's what we're here for," said Lester Board School Board Chair Chester Hoernemann at Tuesday's meeting.

Hoernemann spoke before a library packed with both parents and teachers searching for answers to low test scores, budget shortfalls, and program reductions.

Reductions have been a recurrent topic at board meetings since April 3 when the board said it needed to cut $150,000 in staff and programs for 2000-2001 and almost again as much for 2001-2002.

When considering reductions, Supt. James Redfield said the board should also consider the future. Thus, when the budget is balanced, the district will still have a viable school from which point it can go forward, he said.

Board member Barry Kyllo didn't see it that way.

"Are we going to sit here with our hands in the sand?" asked Kyllo.

The board agreed that it's cutting as far as it can cut, Kyllo said. He asked what happens if this projected growth doesn't pan out. He said they should also plan for that, too.

Board member Nancy Krull didn't see any reason to close the doors of the school because of a financial deficit.

"Not being independent is not closing the doors," replied Kyllo.

Krull asked what he meant by "not being independent."

"By not being Independent School District 424," replied Kyllo.

"But it means we lose the choice of keeping the doors open if someone else decides to close them," said Hoernemann.

"Would you rather provide a sub-standard program than plan for the future?" asked Kyllo.

A back and forth banter ensued among the board members until Hoernemann said it was time to move on. He didn't see any point in discussing what was once hashed over before.

"Giving up the school is not an option, in my way of thinking," said Hoernemann. "That's giving up control."

The heat hadn't lifted yet.

A parent, David Potts, took the floor. He said he was very involved in getting the excess levy referendum passed. He said he was told that the referendum was not for extra programs, but just to maintain the school.

He was unaware, he said, that despite this referendum being passed, there would still be a significant deficit.

"I don't know why nobody knew we were going to have this big budget shortfall. We've already pushed other school districts aside saying, 'We're going on our on,'" Potts said.

"I would love to keep this an independent district . . . but what is real is what I want to know, and what's best for the kids?" Potts asked.

Potts said the board shouldn't turn its back on some of the things that Kyllo was discussing. He agreed that many districts are hurting, but the smaller the district, the larger the hurt.

"I don't see why this shortfall should come to light just now. I don't think studies and looking ahead is rocket science. It's basic financial management," he said.

Neither the board nor the superintendent responded to Potts' statements.

At a later point in the meeting, Kyllo told Potts, " I would like to say that I didn't know (about the budget deficit) but the board did pass a budget last year that was $180,000 in the red. So the board knew, at least that much."

Board business continued as Hoernemann read the names of five paraprofessionals whose positions would be eliminated: Sue Iverson, Trudey Monson, Julie Dammann, Sue Rolf, and Julie Starkson.

Redfield said that this doesn't mean there will be no Title I or special education or that these people would be eliminated. People would be shuffled around in these positions according to seniority.

Athletics

Talks of reduction entered the realm of athletics.

It revolved around having no junior high sports program and having something available through community education for that level to raising athletic fees.

Athletic Director Bob Kuehl asked what percentage of the total operating budget was the athletic budget and what percentage of the total reduction amount would be athletics?

"You give us a number and our coaches will get together and come up with those cuts," said Kuehl.

That was the impetus that caused the board to have Kuehl, his coaches, and administration come up with a "bare bones" sports program and some alternatives to enhance it through community education.

Kyllo later suggested if everyone in the room had a foreign exchange student, at $4,000 apiece that would more than pay for the sports program.

The comment brought a lot of laughs, but the deficit still remained.

Release time

Still not resolved, the issue of release time and what to do with the students not in release was discussed.

Krull suggested that release time could be an extracurricular activity. Why can't the school day continue and the children be responsible for work missed, she asked.

Teacher Cathy Houg said it's very difficult to hold kids responsible when they're not there. Houg said she uses the time for Title 1 work or for one-on-one with needy students.

Maybe that the time then could be used not to teach core subjects, but to enrich them, Krull then said.

Elementary principal Richard Hartshorn reminded the board that the state allows up to three hours of release time per week.

Krull said she and Hartshorn will meet with the pastors and present a solution at the next meeting.


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