Feb. 12, 2007

What is on the table?

Board begins the preliminary process of budget cuts with retreat

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

The Dassel-Cokato School Board and administration spoke of ways to trim $300,000 from the budget during a retreat Feb. 3.

Among the discussion were administration, activities, and ways to increase revenue. The team began the process by reviewing answers from the questionnaires from the PTA forum.

The retreat was used to discuss recommendations for the $300,000 cuts but not to make any final decisions.

Recommendations will be formalized at today’s (Monday) school board meeting and final decisions will be made at the Monday, March 12 meeting.

The board wants a month for the community and stakeholders to react to the proposed cuts, according to Kevin Dahlman, school board chair.

Superintendent Jeff Powers began the conversation with what he thinks are the best options for the current budget cuts, but not as long-term solutions.

“Every area has to be looked at, including administration,” Powers said.

His recommendations included reducing the curriculum director position to .75 full-time and adding the dean of students responsibility to the activities director. Powers explained this is simply a starting point for conversation.

With the elimination of the dean and the .25 curriculum director position this would contribute $86,980 to total cuts.

High School Principal Mark Herman reminded the board that the principal is also in charge of discipline of the alternative learning center. He said that with what he’s been involved in, having only one principal would be opening a door for more issues.

Herman asked, “Who will monitor the school’s cameras?,” in reference to the dean of students position.

The option of one principal being responsible for both Dassel and Cokato Elementary schools was weighed as well.

Combining both schools could mean one principal would be responsible for more than 900 students.

Principals Karen Coblentz and Lorene Force urged the board to consider, as they go forward, the importance of the leadership component and that the emotional needs of the students and families are great.

Force gave a scenario if the principal was in the other building and the part-time social worker was not there, this could leave the secretary taking care of discipline and sick kids, she said.

Brian Danielson, school board member, asked if a dean of students for the elementary was an option.

It was explained that a dean is unable to suspend students. Kevin Bjork, board member, suggested hiring a full-time social worker to handle such issues, but at a lesser salary than a principal.

Tina Palmer, the district’s business manager, plugged in the numbers for option of three principals and three dean of students, for a savings of $63,700. The total possible cuts for administration would be $150,680.

Karen Ness, vice chair of the board explained that as a board, it is elected by the community to serve, and the community believes the administration is heavy.

With administration being only a portion of the possible cuts, Ness wanted to know what the other piece included.

Perry Thinesen, athletic director, calculated possible cuts and revenue enhancements concerning activities and athletics.

Thinesen compared the district’s activity fees with other schools in the conference. He explained there would be room to increase fees and still not be the highest in the conference, which would exclude some people from participating.

He proposed raising the senior high participation fees from $60 to $80 and junior high fees from $50 to $60 for a total of $17,540.

Eliminating the punch pass was also proposed to save money. Thinesen explained DC was the only district in the conference to use such a pass.

The idea of shifting junior varsity sports to Community Education was quickly shot down due to the fact that the fees would be significantly higher.

“I don’t think we should go down that road at all,” Dahlman said, explaining it would only be shifting expenses from one area to another.

Other parts of Thinisen’s proposal included possible staff, transportation and supply reductions. The total proposed cuts and revenue increases are approximately $50,000.

Another option that is being looked at is charging students for parking.

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