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$1.1M in cuts likely as Litchfield Schools looks for ways to get out of statutory operating debt

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LITCHFIELD -- The Litchfield School District could end up cutting more than $1.1 million from its budget as part of a three-year plan to get out of statutory operating debt.

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The School Board on Monday made $328,750 in budget cuts for the school year. School officials will now look at cutting an additional $800,000 from the budgets for the next two school years, according to Superintendent Bill Wold.

The district learned last month that a special education debt of $300,000 had pushed it into statutory operating debt.

The reductions recommended by the administration during its Monday meeting included: a reduction in district staff development and textbook expenditures, eliminating two activity bus routes and out-of-district field trips funded by the district, reducing the number of substitute teachers and teacher assistants, and reconfiguring a payment method for the district's technology department's salaries and benefits.

With the reductions, the district will consequently withhold 75 percent of staff development funding and reduce at least 100 opportunities for substitute teachers. Litchfield will also fund the technology department salaries with money from the district's capital fund -- generally used for building repairs/projects -- instead of from the general fund. Wold said the reconfiguration will help balance the district's general fund for 2008-09.

Wold said reduction recommendations for 2009-10 and 2010-11 come on the heels of a failed operating levy and the announcement that the state has a record budget deficit. The School Board will discuss cuts for 2009-10 and 2010-11 during its Dec. 22 meeting. It will not make decisions until after the New Year, Wold said.

Wold hinted future discussions will likely include reducing personnel and services.

"Since we have contracts that are obviously in effect, we can't do anything in the middle of the year, like this year in regards to personnel," Wold said.

The district will wait until spring to make those decisions, he said. Wold hopes to have a greater idea at that time of any impending retirements and/or resignations that could affect any personnel decisions.

He said he also expected a sizable reduction in transportation, one of the largest expenses on the district's books.

"I don't think there's any question about that," Wold said. "We'd see that coming down the line and probably get more into specifics as the year goes on."

Ultimately, the cuts are a means to an end, Wold said. When the Department of Education OKs Litchfield's exit plan, Wold said, the district can request permission from the state commissioner to propose a referendum to voters at anytime until the district gets out of statutory operating debt.

"There isn't any question that we will be out again," Wold said.

He added the district would propose another referendum in 2009 "when the board thinks it's feasible to go out and ask again."

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