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Committee asks School Board for info about future cuts

WILLMAR -- Members of a new committee promoting the school levy referendum this fall had questions for the Willmar School Board Monday.

Jill Benson and Karen Hilding got some answers but asked for some information that isn't available yet.

The district will present two questions to the voters in the Nov. 4 general election.

The new levies -- one for $201.51 per pupil and one for $374.36 per pupil -- would be added to the $498.49 per pupil levy the district currently uses to support its operating budget.

If neither levy passes, the district could face $2.5 million in budget cuts next spring. If just one of the questions passes, the budget would still be cut, but it would be cut less. If both pass, budget cuts could be avoided for the next two years.

Benson and Hilding said their group was looking for information about class sizes, which classes are required by law and more specifics about what might be cut from the budget next spring if the new levies are not approved.

The phrase "cutting people and programs" probably isn't specific enough, Benson said. The committee wanted to be able to tell the public what some of the targets might be, she added.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said there is no state limit on class size. He would be able to provide public information they wanted about state academic requirements, too, he said.

But board members said it would be difficult for them to be more specific about possible cuts, because they haven't discussed that yet.

"Things could change drastically between now and (next spring)," said Chairman Mike Carlson.

The board doesn't want to affect staff morale by discussing possible cuts that may never happen, he added.

Board member Shawn Mueske suggested that they could study the cuts made in recent years. "Truly, I don't believe we have an idea of exactly what could be cut," he said.

Cuts of $1.4 million last spring resulted in the layoff of about 30 employees and a slight increase in class sizes.

Hilding said they were looking for a way to "let people understand that not everything that goes on has to be here."

Board member Wayne Lenzmeier added, "They need to know there are not going to be any sacred cows."

Carlson encouraged them to speak to community organizations, even if board members have already visited with them. "Nobody sitting here can ask voters to vote yes," he said. "That has to come from you."

Board members can provide information but they can't campaign in favor of the levy vote as representatives of the board.

The board approved a request from North American State Bank to offer their customers debit cards bearing the Willmar Cardinal logo. The bank will pay for the issuance and promotion of the Willmar School Spirit cards and will donate a percentage of the net income to the Willmar Public Schools Foundation. The bank estimated that the program would generate about $720 a year.

Kjergaard said any other banks in the community would be able to use the Cardinal logo, too, once the board approved the program.

Board member Brad Schmidt, who also serves on the foundation board, said the foundation would be pleased to have the money. The foundation pays activity fees for students whose families can't afford it and also fields requests for funding for special programs.

In other business, board members congratulated Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington and her staff on receiving the Excellence in Financial Reporting award from the Association of School Business Officials International for their annual financial report for fiscal year 2007.