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Scheduling will survive list of cuts debated by school brass

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news Willmar, 56201

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

WILLMAR -- For one more year, it appears that some of the more popular scheduling options in the Willmar School District are safe.

Kindergarteners will have all-day, everyday classes. Middle School students will have flex scheduling for communications/reading and for math. The block schedule will continue at the Senior High.

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Next year, or the year after, School Board members said at their Monday meeting, some of those things could be gone, along with some extra-curricular and co-curricular programs.

The board plans to cut $2 million from its $40 million general fund budget before the 2010-11 school year. It's possible a similar cut could be needed next year.

The budget cuts are needed because of a number of factors. State aid per pupil has increased very little in the past decade and was frozen for several years. In the meantime, inflation has increased many costs.

In addition, enrollment has been falling for more than a decade. State aid is tied to an enrollment measurement called pupil units and weighted according to students' ages. A secondary student is considered to be 1.3 pupil units, but a kindergarten student is ranked as 0.612 pupil units.

The situation could become more dire in the future, depending on what the state does with school funding while coping with a multibillion-dollar projected budget deficit.

While they haven't officially decided to conduct an operating levy referendum this fall, board members wondered aloud Monday if voters in the district might approve a levy to maintain some of these features of the district.

The cuts this year include increased fees and staff cuts. In the future, a four-day week could be part of the equation, Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said.

The board decided to try to save the full-time kindergarten program for next year, but members said they may not be able to keep it after that.

Kjergaard also suggested allowing administrators to suggest saving a few other positions by using about $220,000 from the district's $2.8 million general fund balance.

When the original list of cuts was proposed a week ago, board members asked for more information about class sizes and the cost of sports and other activities.

This week, they asked for more information about scheduling in the English Language Learner for the next board meeting on Feb. 22.

Janice Vazquez, ELL coordinator, explained the collaborative efforts taking place between ELL and classroom teachers.

The collaboration brings ELL teachers into regular classrooms an hour a day to work as a team with classroom teachers. It allows students to stay in their regular classrooms and still receive extra help during math and reading classes, Vazquez said.

The proposed budget cuts eliminate two ELL teaching positions, a cut that could jeopardize the collaboration effort, Vazquez said.

"I would like to know what you would do without the two people," said board member Mike Carlson. "If we're going to make an informed decision, we need to know all the factors."

Middle School Principal Mark Miley said the loss of two core subject teaching positions could jeopardize a plan that gives students extended communications and math classes on alternate days. Mid-year test results have shown improvement at the school, he said.

At the Senior High, the block schedule is not on the reduction list yet, but Principal Rob Anderson said it could be in a future round of cuts. Cutting the block schedule could result in some long-term savings but would require a huge purchase of textbooks and other materials initially, he said.

After the discussion, Kjergaard said he would be glad to be able to save some teaching positions, but the cuts are still difficult. "There's a lot of stuff on here that a lot of good people are going to be upset about."

Also on Monday the board approved the staff seniority list for this school year and voted to withdraw from membership in the Infinity On-Line Learning Program. The district will continue to pay the costs for individual students who want to use the program.

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