By Linda Scherer
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN No one had any objections to making cuts to Lester Prairie administrative staff, but parents and students told the school board they want to see programs and extracurricular activities left in place at a special budget meeting last Monday.
The more than 60 people attending met in the school gym to give suggestions on ways to cut the proposed 2009-10 budget.
Secondary Principal Scott Fitzsimonds began the meeting by announcing Superintendent Greg East was still recovering from a serious car accident which took place Feb. 7 and would not be in attendance.
East had asked Fitzsimonds to tell the board he was revising the need for a total of $600,000 in budget cuts because the federal stimulus package is to fill the gap in state aid funding reductions.
East said the board only has to look at cuts totaling $345,000 to compensate for the decline in student enrollment. There was a loss of 31 students from 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, and a projected loss of 10 students from 2008-09 to 2009-10.
Approximately two dozen people spoke during the one-hour-and-45-minute meeting.
Gene Starke, who is on the Lester Prairie coaching staff and a former school board member, was the second person at the podium, and his plan was detailed.
“My suggestion to you is possibly cut one principal; put your superintendent at half-time; take your athletic director position and give it to a teacher possibly three/tenths of a day,” Starke said.
Because Lester Prairie is paired in sports, Starke suggested using Holy Trinity Athletic Director Judy Ide to help with the administrative work.
“If it is not possible to give the position to a teacher, give it to someone on the outside who would like a part-time job. If you do that, I am guessing you would save about $120,000 in administration, and if you take $100,000 of your reserve, you would have $220,000 right there, with $120,000 to go,” Starke said.
Barry Kyllo, who had also been on the school board at one time, said Starke had some good comments.
“When you look at the elephant in the room, it is staff,” Kyllo said. “That is what the biggest part of the cost of the school is. When I was on the board, we would have discussions about that and the former superintendent told us that we could ratchet it down and still provide the students with a top quality education.”
Chris Schultz, a parent with three children in the district, said administration costs for Lester Prairie, per pupil, were roughly 71 percent higher than other districts.
“We have shared principals and administrators in the past. That is your first clear option,” Schultz said.
Schultz proposed a second option.
“We have been here before and we will be here again,” Schultz said. “We have aggressively used our reserved funds, I would say the last 15 years, every time this has come up. We did it for fear of cutting programs so that those kids would not suffer . . .
“If you take the $300,000 out of that $480,000 reserve; better take it now. I don’t want my kids to suffer. We have built that reserve now. We might not have extra (funds) two years from now, but I would rather spend that reserve down for a two-year period until we can change common practices, and not cut band and not cut drama, and not have to talk about it.”
Christine Dammann is a Lester Prairie parent who attended Lester Prairie School until her sophomore year, when she began to attend school at Glencoe where she graduated.
When Dammann spoke, she reminded everyone about the value of Lester Prairie School and why she wanted her children to attend Lester Prairie.
“Having lived both lives, and not saying anything bad about Glencoe, when it came time for me to choose where my child would attend school, I decided to bring them back here,” Dammann said.
“That is because Lester Prairie is a unique situation. We are more like family.”
It was also important to Dammann for her children to have the extracurricular activities she had while attending school.
“I participated in all sports,” Dammann said. “But I also participated in band and choir. They are all important. I think they shouldn’t be touched at all. Our children are in these things, and yes, they are extra things, but they are things that keep them out of trouble and keep them off the streets. They are things that teach them how to be a team player and they can use this through their whole lives, not just in school.”
Others agreed with Dammann on the importance of extracurricular activities.
The school board had few comments throughout the meeting, but Board Chairman Fred Blaser did comment on spending the reserved fund balance of $480,000 stating that some of it was already allocated.
“I will tell you right now, I am opposed to taking that down to zero because what are we going to do next year, if we don’t aggressively look at our problems now?” Blaser said.
The possibility of a fall levy referendum was also discussed, but revenue would not be seen for a year and a half.
At the end of the meeting, Blaser said anyone who wishes to contact a school board member regarding budget cuts could still do so.
All the letters that have been sent to board members so far will be reviewed, Blaser said.
To review a list of potential reductions or to contact a school board member click here.
A final decision on the budget cuts for the proposed 2009-10 budget will be made at the regular school board meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 16 in the school media center.
The meeting is open to the public.