Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 28, 2005

LP School Board sets public meeting to deal with cuts

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

Lester Prairie Schools Superintendent Joe Miller has recommended that several staff position be cut for the 2005-05 school year due to the current financial shape of the district.

No positions have been cut yet, and before any action is taken, the school board decided to conduct a public input meeting Tuesday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the school media center.

Miller has been approached by a group of people interested in doing what they can to try and raise funds for the school district, which is looking at having to cut more than $400,000 from its budget.

Even with the goodwill gesture of the organization, Miller is still proposing that the board cut three middle/high school staff and two elementary staff (savings of $225,000), one custodian/para/ food service (savings of $47,000), increase fees and make some reductions in extra-curriculars ($25,000), and freeze Miller’s salary for 2005-06 ($3,000), which comes to $300,000.

If the board wanted to make more cuts, Miller presented a second “tier” with his recommendations, which included negotiating a freeze with the non-certified staff and all individually contracted employees (potential savings of 0-$7,000), cut another elementary teacher/or elementary music (savings of $45,000), cut a second para position (savings of $15,000), cut the counselor (savings of $45,000), and cut a part-time computer teacher position (savings of $25,000), which totals approximately $137,000.

He also had a third tier of cuts, which included cutting all of the business classes (savings of $20,000) and cutting an administrative position (savings of $60,000).

“Those will be things you need to decide as a board. If you need to go beyond the first tier, the first $300,000, you’ll need to discuss what to do,” Miller said.

“If you do not cut at least $300,000, you will start off $300,000 in the hole, and by the end of next year, will be $600,000 to $700,000 in the hole, which you cannot do,” Miller said. Miller said there are also a lot of internal issues he is watching, such as cutting back on spending of smaller items.

Board Member Chester Hoernemann brought up the costs of laying off people, noting that there are some costs that will be incurred by the district.

Using outside sources to bring in additional funds

Miller met with a group of residents who are concerned with the financial situation of the district, and who have presented various ideas to Miller following several meetings.

He gave an example of junior high sports, which, in addition to the fees, costs about $20,000.

“If we could find an outside source to fund that; in other words, provide us with resources to fund our junior high sports, that’s a $20,000 savings to us,” Miller said. “We want to still maintain the integrity of the programs, but that would be one area the community group could come up with ways to support.”

Miller has received correspondence from several people inquiring about making donations to the school. Long-term, Miller hopes to develop the education foundation.

“We are always going to be faced with shortages from the state legislature,” Miller said. “They are never going to say ‘OK, here is all the extra money we have to take care of your school.’”

Miller went on to say he would like to see a “community effort” to try to raise up to $100,000 – not to spend right now, but making a 50/50 split, spending half now and putting half in the reserve.

As far as redeveloping the education foundation, Miller plans on sending letters to the charter members of the foundation, gathering them together, and having them vote on a new board of directors.

“Thank goodness that Mr. Busch (former superintendent Cliff Busch) set that up back in the day, because now, state law prevents that from happening,” Miller said. “Schools that are trying to set them up now can’t.”

Cash flow analysis

At the end of April, the district will have about $67,000 in its accounts. By the end of May, the district will not have money to pay its bills, leaving a $78,000 shortfall. There will also be no money in reserves, Miller said.

This year, the district will need to borrow about $600,000, but will only pay out of that when it needs to.

“When you borrow money from that account, you must pay that back within 45 days,” Miller said. “The good part is that after you repay it, you can borrow it right back out again.”

This borrowing plan should be in place for board approval by the time the board meets in March.

Recruiting and retention was also something that board members discussed.

“Put the ad in the paper, and as far as New Germany, Mayer, Watertown, if we get enough interest – let’s bus them in,” Board Member Jeff Hecksel said. “Let’s do everything we can to get these kids in the school. I realize some of the other schools are going to be kind of angry at us for advertising, but this isn’t a game, that’s life.”

Miller said the school is working with the Lester Prairie Business Association in getting welcome packets out to new residents, as well as potentially hitting neighboring communities with packets.

He also reminded the board about improving the district’s facilities, and said that must be “kept on the stove,” and isn’t something he’s forgotten about.

Projecting the number of children in the future

Looking out over the next few years, according to 2004 census data, Miller said there are 33 four- year-olds, 36 three-year-olds, 27 two-year-olds, 32 one-year-olds, and 34 under one year of age, which comes to 162 children.

This year’s high school (grades 8 through 12), if every child stays in Lester Prairie, and if every one of those preschoolers come to Lester Prairie, that’s 204 children, which equals about 42 less students over the next five years.

“If you take the demographics of development, we can add 100 more houses to our facilities in town here. If, over the next year or two, we build 100 more houses, right now there are about 20 that are unoccupied east of town (East Park Estates), about nine in Prairie Ridge, and about 11 in town, which is about 140 homes,” Miller said.

If the district received .3 students for each of those houses, that’s about 46 students we will gain in the next couple of years.

“It will still be about the same number of kids we have now, or less,” Miller said. “That’s really consistent with what the demographer told us about five years ago.”

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