School Board takes another step toward cutting $1.6M; problems could get worse, depending on state actions
WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board has adopted a resolution ordering the district administration to prepare recommendations for reducing the budget by at least $1.6 million.
The resolution, adopted by the board at its Monday meeting, is required to begin the legal process required to lay off tenured teachers.
The $1.6 million in budget cuts is required to deal with a situation faced by many school districts -- inflation continues to outpace increases in state aid, which makes up more than 80 percent of school revenues.
The district had asked the voters to approve additional funding this fall. They did approve some, but not enough to prevent budget cuts next spring.
Depending on what the state Legislature does next year, the budget cuts next spring could be even worse, said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard.
Everyone he talks to about the issue thinks that school districts are likely to receive no increase in funding for the 2009-10 school year, he said.
If that's the case, the district may need to cut about $2.3 million from the budget, he said.
"That's why I'm trying to get as many ideas as I can," he said.
Staff members have made more than 50 suggestions about possible cuts, Kjergaard said, and there is a form on the district's Web site so the public can weigh in. The School Board will meet with Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, and Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, at its Dec. 8 meeting. State budget forecasts will be released a few days before that meeting.
Kjergaard laid out some guidelines for the budget cutting process Monday. Administrators are working on a timeline for the board, which should be ready in December, he said.
"The goal is to have this done as early as we can," Kjergaard said.
Staff members who may be laid off should know as soon as possible "so we can help them find other jobs," he said.
In guidelines distributed to administrators, Kjergaard directed them to review potential budget reductions with an eye toward the district's mission and goals.
The cuts will fall into four broad categories -- programs, staff, impact on revenue and impact on other areas.
Class sizes are likely to go up, something board members asked Kjergaard about.
"Is there a limit," asked Board Chairman Mike Carlson. He asked if the board should be talking about the number of students allowed in certain grades.
Kjergaard said it's probably too early to have that discussion, because there are no concrete suggestions yet.
The list of proposed cuts will be larger than $1.6 million, so board members will have some flexibility in choosing the final list of cuts.
Board member Sandi Unger asked to have a list of the cuts the board has made in the last four years, to refresh their memories. Kjergaard said it is being prepared.
The board has cut about $2.5 million from the budget in the past few years, affecting more than 40 jobs through layoffs or hours reductions.
Kjergaard said the board will need to discuss at some point whether it wants to change its policy on the district's undesignated general fund balance.
The board has had a policy of maintaining a fund balance equal to 6 percent of expenditures. The policy was adopted in 2000 as part of the district's plan to resolve its statutory operating debt. That means that the district's budget deficit exceeded limits set by the state. The district's fund balance is likely to be at the 6 percent level at the end of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2009.