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Mike Carlson, top left, and other members of the Willmar School Board meet Monday to discuss cuts to the district's budget. If approved, the cuts could total $2 million. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Willmar school officials propose $2M in cuts

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

WILLMAR -- If the Willmar School Board adopts the list of cuts distributed at its meeting Monday, the school district will have a much different look next year.

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The list of about $2.2 million in revenue increases and spending cuts includes popular programs at all levels. The board plans to make cuts totaling $2 million from the district's $40 million general fund budget. The largest cut by far would be the $450,000 that could be saved if the district returned to half-time kindergarten classes.

The district has had all-day everyday kindergarten since fall 2005.

Other proposed cuts include high school marching band and elementary band, choir and orchestra. One administrative position may also be eliminated.

A proposal to the staff at the Middle School could end the flex scheduling the school uses, which allows students to have extended classes in communications and math on alternate days.

Some Middle School and Senior High activities could be cut, and a number of ticket prices and fees could be increased.

District administrators presented the proposed cuts to the board at a three-hour workshop meeting Monday afternoon and evening. About 40 people, mostly school employees, packed the boardroom.

Board members and administrators expressed disappointment at the level of cuts needed and the number of students who could be affected. They asked for more information and for more ideas about how to cut the budget.

"We struggled to get where we're at," Kjergaard said, but the information requested would be available before the next board meeting.

Kjergaard said he didn't know if the $2 million would be enough, because there's no way of knowing what the Legislature will decide about state funding this spring.

"Every time we do this, we lose blood," he said, his frustration with the situation evident. "We've got blood all over the table, and it's not going to get better."

The cuts are needed because school districts across the state are dealing with inflation and declining enrollment while they have seen little or no annual increases in state aid for at least a decade. Most state aid is based on the number of students in a district.

The Monday meeting was the beginning of the budget reduction process for the board. Administrators have worked on the list for two months, but Monday was the board's first chance for discussion. The meeting was to have been held last week, but it was rescheduled because of a snowstorm.

"The list we're getting today is going to be different from what we vote on in the end," said board Chairman Brad Schmidt.

The board is scheduled to discuss the cuts again at meetings on Feb. 8 and Feb. 22. According to a schedule distributed at the meeting, the board will likely make a final decision about the cuts at a March 3 meeting.

The possibility of losing the full-time kindergarten classes was distressing for board members, as most of them were on the board when it was approved in August 2005.

"It kills me to see it on (the list)," said board member Dion Warne, who was chairman in 2005. "I don't know that I can vote for that."

Information provided with the budget cut list did not say anything positive about the cut, except that it would save money by reducing the need for half the kindergarten teachers.

"I don't think anyone wants to have this done away with," Kjergaard said.

Other concerns raised by the board were class sizes in all grades and cuts in the special education and English Language Learner programs.

When the discussion turned to the possibility of eliminating sports and other activities at the Middle School, board member Sandi Unger said, "That's a lot of 13- and 14-year-olds with nothing to do after school; I wonder if the community wants that."

The board meeting was recorded and will be shown on local cable Channel WPS19 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday and at 11:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Budget documents will be posted today on the district's Web site www.willmar.k12.mn.us.

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