By Linda Scherer
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie School Board had some tough decisions to make during its regular board meeting Monday, as it cut $245,348 from its 2009-10 school budget and used $115,000 of its reserved funds.
Before the meeting was over, Supt. Greg East had his position reduced from full-time to 80 percent, plus two full-time teachers (one from elementary and one from high school), and a paraprofessional were cut, as well. To see a chart of proposed and actual cuts, click here.
A second round of cuts could be coming soon depending on what the legislature does, East told the board and those attending the meeting.
East said he had received word Monday that the Minnesota Senate has a bill for 7 percent reduction in general aid to schools, but he asked the board to focus the evening’s cuts on the school’s declining enrollment only.
The district has lost a total of 31 students since February 2006 and is predicting the loss of an additional 10 students from 2008-09 to 2009-10.
To compensate for the loss in revenue because of fewer students, East had estimated a total of $345,165 needed to be cut from next year’s budget.
The majority of the budget cuts happened quickly since the board had the opportunity to review the proposed cuts since its last school board meeting in February.
No extracurricular activities were included in the reductions although a full-time music teacher was reduced to half-time.
School Board Member Karla Heigl asked how a half-time music teacher would be able to maintain current band programs?
“Part of the band program right now is lessons and I believe that they can still continue lessons if they would like through community ed,” School Board Member Joe Miller said. “A half-time band position would be able to have the fifth and sixth grade band, junior high band, and senior high band in less than half a day. . . I believe it can be worked in a half-time position.”
Before East’s position was reduced to 80 percent-time, two motions failed. One of the motions was to reduce his time to 60 percent cutting $40,000 from the school’s budget.
“In all of the information that I have been given over the last couple of weeks and listening to everybody at the public forums, it was pretty clear to me that there were many people who feel that administration is one area where we can definitely do some cuts,” Heigl said. “That is why I am for reducing the superintendent’s position down to 60 percent,” Heigl said.
Miller disagreed with Heigl. His suggestion was to reduce the superintendent’s position to an 80 percent position which would save the school $20,000.
“My reason is that over the next two years we are going to have probably some of the most serious financial discussions we have ever had to have,” Miller said. “If we don’t have somebody who knows how to handle finances we will have greater problems.”
The board approved taking money from the reserved fund which helped offset the cuts by $115,000. The amount was suggested by Miller.
The board had made a resolution to maintain a budget reserve of about 8 percent since getting out of statutory operating debt three years ago, Miller said.
“Our expenditures at the end of July 2008 were $3.8 million and 8 percent of that would be around $304,000, Miller said.
“At our last meeting we talked about having $483,000 in our reserve so we were over the 8 percent,” Miller said.
Miller approved using $100,000 from the reserved fund, but wanted everyone attending the meeting to know that an additional $100,000 of the reserved fund had been allocated to help pay for severance of teachers when they retire.
“Over the last 20 years there has never been any money set aside for those people who retire even though we knew we were going to have severances and insurance packages and those kind of things,” Miller said.
In addition, the board had made a resolution to put aside $25,000 each year for teachers’ retirement, according to Miller.
Miller made another suggestion of reducing the $25,000 set aside in severance to $10,000 so an additional $15,000 could be used for next year’s budget.
“If the reserved fund stays between 6 and 8 percent, especially this year, I think we will still be sufficient. I would never recommend much more,” Miller said.
Even after reaching the budget goal set for the evening, Heigl proposed cutting Secondary Principal and Athletic Director Scott Fitzsimonds’ position leaving only one k-12 principal position.
“I do feel that the administration of the school has many hats they wear and I understand that,” Heigl said. “But I think we are looking to the future and looking at the competitiveness in this open enrollment environment. . . I am not sure if it is in our best interest to keep two principals and that is why I have proposed eliminating the high school principal’s position.”
Because no one seconded the motion to cut the high school principal’s position, the motion failed.
East had spoken earlier on the importance of keeping the principals.
“Most people do not understand the roles those people (principals) carry.”
Miller agreed with East and said “If we really had two principals and a superintendent, I believe we could make larger cuts in this area, but we really don’t have that,” Miller said. “In most schools there is only one principal and somebody else is the athletic director and somebody else is the curriculum director and in charge of special ed. In our school setting, our principals do those jobs.”
The final motion the board approved for the 2009-10 budget was to increase all activity fees by $10. The current activity fee for Grades 7-8 is $50 and Grades 9-12 is $80.
Seven period school day for 2009-10
Fitzsimonds asked and received the board’s approval to transition the grades 7-12 school day from a six period day to seven and change graduation credit requirements.
The flexibility with the additional class period will make it easier in sharing middle school and high school programming and provide more opportunities for students, Fitzsimonds said. It will also better fit the Response To Intervention scheduling.
As far as changing graduation requirements, currently 9-12 graders are required to have 23 credits out of a possible 24 for the students to graduate.
For next year’s juniors and seniors, the seven-period day will not affect the required number of credits, but after that current sophomores will have one additional required credit of 24 and the freshmen will have one additional credit requirement of 25 to graduate.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• was told a review of the 2008-09 budget of revenues and expenditures shows the budget at this time is in compliance, according to East.
• approved a bid from Eide Bailly to do the school audit for 2008-09 at a cost of $14,700; 2009-10 at a cost of $15,300; and 2010-11 at a cost of $15,900.
Eide Bailly’s bid was the lowest of four bids received.
• approved the 2009 lawn mowing bid from Mathews Lawn Service at $1,800, the lowest of three bids received.
• accepted the resignation of John Rosell 7-12 grade science teacher effective at the end of the school year. Rosell’s reasons were, “health and other issues have made it time for me to call it a career.”
• learned the Perkins federal funding for career and technical education is planning on a decrease of 10 percent for the next school year so plans to use the funds will have to be adjusted accordingly.
• approved contracts with Southwest and West Central Services for the 2009-10 school year.
• noted the Bulldog Bash is Saturday, March 28 at the Blue Note with a social hour beginning at 6 p.m.
• learned the price of school lunches will be reduced 25-cents per meal beginning March 17.
The lunches are being reduced because the Department of Education reviewed the food service funds and found Lester Prairie had too much money in reserve.
It was necessary to reduce lunch prices until the end of the year and develop a plan to use additional funds to fix up the kitchen.