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All-day, every day kindergarten program not likely to be cut

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WILLMAR -- Full-time kindergarten could be staying in Willmar, at least for another year.

Members of the Willmar School Board agreed Monday evening to remove all-day, everyday kindergarten from a list of potential cuts for the 2010-11 school year.

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The kindergarten reduction was the largest on a list of more than $2.5 million reductions presented by school administrators.

The goal is to cut about $2 million from the $40 million general fund budget to prepare for the next school year. Willmar and other districts in the state are dealing with a combination of inflation, declining enrollment and no increases in revenue from state aid.

The kindergarten cut could have saved $450,000. Because the state provides aid for only half-time kindergarten, school districts that offer full-time programs absorb some of the cost.

At a workshop meeting a week ago, the board asked for an expanded list, so there would be more options. Administrators added another $500,000 to the list before Monday's meeting. Most of the additions were staff cuts or ways to raise revenue.

The larger list gave the board enough room to save the kindergarten program. However, they also discussed the possibility that it may not be possible to save the kindergarten program in the next round of budget cuts, likely to come next year.

Board member Dion Warne said the $450,000 would be a big savings, "but it's a huge impact on our community."

The public raised the issue of the kindergarten cuts more than anything else in the past week, board members said.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard gestured to the administrators at the meeting and said, "This wasn't a real popular one when we put it forward."

Some people even suggested they'd pay higher sports fees if it would save kindergarten, said board member Mike Carlson.

"There's not a popular cut up there," said board member Mike Reynolds.

All of the board members expressed a desire to save kindergarten. Several suggested that the voters of the district might support an operating levy referendum if it would help keep the program in the future.

At the suggestion of Kjergaard, board members also agreed to allow administrators to work together to take an additional $300,000 off the list. About $220,000 of that would come from the district's fund balance, which is currently $2.8 million.

The board heard presentations about potential cuts in the English Language Learner program, which could lose two full-time teachers, and about how a loss of two teachers at the Middle School could disrupt the current scheduling system.

The board asked for more information about those issues, and they will be discussed when the board meets in a workshop session on Feb. 22.

Board members asked administrators to look at the possibility of turning over Middle School sports and activities to Willmar Community Education and Recreation so the money could be used to save academic programs.

The board is on a schedule to make final decisions on the budget cuts on March 8.

The remaining list of potential cuts includes the equivalent of about 30 full time positions, though some of them could still be removed before the final vote.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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