By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Ever since the operating levy failed in November, Delano School District officials have been searching for ways to squeeze $800,000 out of the 2012-13 budget.
So far, $298,948 has been reduced or is under consideration, including two bus routes, totaling $74,896.
“We’re still working on that one,” Delano Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Sweet said. “It’s not easy, I can tell you that.”
If the school cuts two bus routes, more elementary students who live near the school will be considered within “walking distance.”
The district would most likely enlarge its walking area policy to include a radius around the elementary school from both sides of Wright County Road 30, County Line Road, the railroad tracks, and the Crow River.
The longest distance for walking would be just over one mile. According to law, schools can have a walking distance of up to two miles.
“Potentially, about 100 elementary students could be impacted, but we’re not sure how many actually ride the bus,” Sweet said, adding that the policy is already in place for middle and high school students.
The school is still under negotiations with Stahlke Bus Service regarding exceptions, such as Tiger Kids Club transportation.
According to Julie Bernick of Stahlke Bus Service, a reduction of two bus routes could be tough on families.
“It’s going to hurt people,” she said. “The biggest thing this means is no bus passes. The impact of that is huge.”
Students who don’t normally ride the bus often get passes when they are going to a relative’s house, friend’s birthday party, or daycare.
“We probably get 100 bus passes per week. But, if we’re going to have buses filled, we just can’t,” Bernick said, adding that exceptions will not be made on days with bad weather, either.
“On those days, the loads will be full,” she said, explaining if a parent isn’t able to pick up their child, the student will most likely have to stay at school or go to Kids Club.
Maximum capacity of a school bus is 77 students.
“That’s three to a seat, which is really tight,” Bernick said, adding that two students to a seat totals 52, and ideally, a bus will have 52 to 60 students.
“We will most likely be at 65 to 68, which is very full,” she said.
Under the proposed plan, stops will not be made in cul-de-sacs, such as Merriman Drive, Willow Drive, Fern Drive, Sunset Lane, and others.
Bus stops would also be consolidated, to cut down on the number of added stops.
“Ride times might increase slightly, but it shouldn’t be much,” Bernick said.
Students who want to ride the bus, but do not meet criteria in the walking distance/bus stops, will most likely incur a charge.
Sweet said he’s not certain when the school board will vote about the bus cuts.
“We need to revise the walking distance policy, which takes two meetings,” he said. “It could be February by the time this gets done.”
The date when cuts will be implemented is also uncertain, but according to Sweet, they will need to be made by the start of the 2012-13 school year.
Another proposed change is an increase in activity fees, to total $35,000. This would result in a $100 fee for middle school activities, and a $150 fee for high school activities.
Delano has already taken several cost-saving measures, which were effective at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, including:
• $76,148 cut staff development budget;
• $55,129 reduction in district office staff;
• $30,000 reduction in instructional supply budget by $10,000 in each building;
• $17,000 elimination of busing for Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Loretto, which closed;
• $4,000 cut employee assistance program;
• $2,055 restructuring of webmaster position;
• $2,000 combining polling locations for odd-year elections.
With all the changes already in place, and the proposed reductions, Delano still has several thousand dollars left to cut.
“We’re not there yet,” Sweet said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”
The remainder of the reductions will most likely be staff cuts, he added.
The present voter-approved operating levy of $426 per student will expire at the end of the 2012-13 school year. At $426, Delano is significantly below the state average operating levy of $950 for taxes payable in 2010.
“I’m not sure people realize the low-spending nature of this school,” Sweet said. “We are among the bottom 9 percent lowest-spending districts in the state.”
Sweet said the board has the ability to go to voters again in November 2012.
“We’ve got to do something,” he said.