Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 22, 2001

Lester Prairie board hears from state financial specialists

By Lynda Jensen

The Lester Prairie School Board passed its revised 2000-2001 budget during its regular meeting Tuesday.

Approval of the budget was held over from last month's meeting.

The budget was revised to adjust for less revenue, stemming from declining enrollment, and increased expenditures, in part from higher gas prices, Superintendent James Redfield said.

Two education finance specialists from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, Mike Enman and Dick Guevremont, were on hand to make suggestions to the board about reducing its chronic deficit.

The duo passed out a detailed breakdown of the district's financial expenditures during the past three years.

Board members spent most of the budget discussion talking about controlling food service costs, and comparing them with other districts.

It was noted that the Glencoe-Silver Lake district charges more for food service than Lester Prairie does. One suggestion was made to raise meal prices.

"To balance the budget, spend no more than what you have," Guevremont said.

The previous budget did not take into account the increase in gas prices. Heating costs alone increased by 309 percent for the district, Redfield said.

"For us, just the projected increase in heating costs for January 2000 through February 2001 is about $40,000," Superintendent James Redfield. "That's a teacher."

Hoernemann suggested lowering thermostats to help with the utility costs. It was decided to call Honeywell to pursue this idea.

Supplies would not be a good area to cut, Guevremont said, since this area is a small percentage and already cut pretty close.

About five percent of the budget covers supplies.

Guevremont told the board to look for pockets of dollars, anywhere they can be found.

Although the general fund is basically balanced, it was noted that the deficit increased due to the addition of three teachers since 1997.

However, student enrollment went down from 663 students to 625, which resulted in less revenue.

Discussion ensued about making staff layoffs to counteract this.

Board members touched on the subjects of consolidation and what other districts under statutory operating debt are doing.

"What is the benefit for consolidation?" asked board member Chester Hoernemann. "What happens with other schools in similar situations?"

It was noted that transportation costs and the inherent savings involved in combining staff for certain areas such as payroll and administration would be some of the intrinsic benefits.

Board member Nancy Krull expressed the desire to avoid any financial surprises.

Approximately 85 percent of dollars in the system is taken up by staff salaries, Enman said. This figure decreased for administration, which is what the legislature wanted, he said.

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