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$250,000 must be cut from ACGC's budget

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Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

GROVE CITY -- Administrators in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District were told Monday to find at least $250,000 to cut from the 2006-07 budget.

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The direction was given after the school board officially canvassed the results of the Dec. 1 special election that had asked voters to approve an additional operating levy to generate new revenue for the district.

The voters defeated the proposed levy on a vote of 1,253 to 802.

"The board acknowledged the proposition had failed," said Superintendent Pamela Kyllingstad.

ACGC is in statutory operating debt -- meaning the district has a negative fund balance greater than 2.5 percent of operating expenditures -- and must submit a plan to the state with details on how to get out of the financial situation within three years. Revenue from the proposed levy had been part of the plan, as well as budget cuts.

Without the levy as an option, the district must make even deeper financial cuts.

Although the board did not discuss it Monday, Kyllingstad said it is assumed that another attempt at an operating levy will be made during the next general election in 2006.

In the meantime, budget cuts will be identified for the next school year.

Because teacher contracts haven't been settled yet, defeat of the levy will mean salary negotiations for the two-year contracts will be even more difficult.

"There was very little room to offer more in the first place," said Kyllingstad.

Defeat of the levy means "there's even less room to do that."

To make matters worse, if a settlement isn't reached by Jan. 17, the district will be charged a one-time $25,000 penalty that will be paid to the state. "We're working against the clock," said Kyllingstad.

The teachers and the school board are about $100,000 apart in their proposals, said Kyllingstad. "That's not a small amount," she said.

The school board is currently offering a 0.5 percent increase the first year and a 1 percent increase the second year.

The teachers have countered with a 2 percent increase for each of the two years.

The raises would be on top of guaranteed annual pay increases as part of the "steps" and "lane" changes teachers receive, said Kyllingstad. These increases are based on length of service and teachers' continuing education.

With the steps and lane changes, and the proposed salary increases, the board's offer is for a 2.18 percent increase the first year and 2.57 percent the second year.

By comparison, the teachers' proposal is 3.05 percent the first year and 3.43 percent the second year.

Because of increasing health insurance costs, and a cap on the employer's contribution, teachers are paying a greater percentage of their health insurance each year.

Kyllingstad said another negotiation session is scheduled Monday. "We'll just keep talking," she said.

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