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Willmar School Board to turn its attention to cutting up to $3 million from its proposed budget for 2009

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board will discuss a list of proposed budget cuts at workshop meeting at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the board room on the first floor of the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

The board members will review a list of about $3 million in cuts and will ultimately choose from that list to cut about $2.5 million from the district's $41 million general fund budget for the 2009-2010 school year. The reduction is about 6 percent of the operating budget.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Friday that he wanted to give the board some choices in its final decision.

Kjergaard expects the board to make its final decision in February or March. Since Monday's meeting is a workshop, the board will take any action on the cuts. The budget will be the only issue discussed.

One budget cut has been made already. The board voted in December to eliminate the French program at the Senior High.

The cuts are needed because state aid, which makes up most of the district's operating budget, has not kept pace with inflation for years, and because the district's enrollment has also been declining.

The school district asked its voters to approve two new operating levies to help forestall budget cuts. Voters approved one of the levies. At that time, school officials estimated that $1.6 million in budget cuts would be needed.

However, a growing state budget deficit has prompted a recalculation of the cuts needed.

Kjergaard said he has been meeting with administrators to develop the budget proposal, which was sent to board members on Friday. It will be released to the public at the meeting on Monday.

"Closing a building will probably be on the list," Kjergaard said. Since about three-quarters of the district's operating costs are in personnel, a number of staff positions will be part of the list, too.

The impact on the community will be serious, Kjergaard said. "The worst thing is, for everybody we lay off, ... it's somebody else that doesn't shop here."

The administrators reviewed about 120 budget suggestions made by staff members and another 20 submitted on the district's Web site. Some of them weren't feasible, but some were incorporated into the list of proposals the board will discuss on Monday.

"If we had our druthers, we would not cut," Kjergaard said.

All of the district's employees are dedicated and work hard, he said.

"We don't have any people just sitting around with nothing to do."