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ACGC approves conservative budget for 2010-11

GROVE CITY -- Two years after getting out of statutory operating debt, and with the threat of a relapse nipping at their heels, the ACGC School Board approved another tight budget this week.

The $8.1 million budget is "conservative, conservative, conservative," said Superintendent Sherri Broderius, choosing three words to describe the 2010-11 budget. "It's conservative across the board."

The school administration used flat-line enrollment and revenue projections when formulating the new budget to make sure the district's expectations for state revenue do not exceed reality.

They also incorporated $265,000 in budget cuts that were the result of not filling positions after several school personnel retired this spring, and anticipated savings from a new four-day school week that will be implemented this fall.

Business manager Dan Tait said he refuses to let the district go back into statutory operating debt, which is when a school district has a negative un- unreserved fund balance in excess of 2.5 percent of its general fund expenditures.

While still in "recovery" mode from statutory operating debt, the 2010-11 budget will keep the district "at an even keel," Tait said. "We're not in a wonderful or a horrible place but we're holding our ground next year."

Without more cuts in the future, the district could slide back into debt by 2013, according to preliminary budget figures.

The board is continuing to look at additional ways to cut the budget, including restructuring how the district uses the elementary school in Cosmos.

The district currently operates elementary schools in Cosmos and Atwater. The Junior/Senior High building is in Grove City. The elementary enrollment at Cosmos is expected to drop significantly by the end of the coming school year and it may not be viable to keep it open for that purpose in the future.

Broderius told the board preliminary research indicates there would be savings in maintenance, supplies and transportation expenses if all the elementary students were moved to Atwater.

The Cosmos building could be used for other district needs, like housing the alternative learning program or pre-school, or more space could be leased to a service cooperative that currently rents space there for an autism program.

Chairwoman Judy Raske said the district should concentrate on these large proposals for cutting the budget in order to maximize the savings, rather than spending time looking for more one-dollar nips and tucks.

Finding new ways to save money is an evolving picture, said Broderius, who is the fourth superintendent in as many years at ACGC.

"Every year we think we've cut all we can cut and then we see more," she said. New options, like moving to a four-day week and restructuring the Cosmos school, are presenting new ways for the district to save money that were not there before, she said.

ACGC's six-year conservative financial model of cutting expenses won't be ending anytime soon and is expanding to other schools, she said. In a later interview Broderius said that since the state hit on hard economic times, a growing number of school districts have been experiencing what ACGC has been dealing with for years. "Welcome to our world," she said.

To help the district deal with possible cash-flow issues for the 2010-11 school year, the board approved selling $1.3 million in general obligation aid anticipation certificates of indebtedness.

Gary Olson, from Ehlers & Associates Inc., said changes the state made in when it sends state aid checks to school districts is making it necessary for a growing number of schools to seek loans to manage cash flow.

The district had two bidders for the bonds with the low bid coming from Piper Jaffray, with a net interest rate of 0.8581 percent. In other action at Monday's regular meeting:

- The board approved a transportation contract that includes no increase in gas and mileage reimbursements. The district is expected to save about $38,000 because buses will run only four days instead of five.

- The board held a brief closed session to discuss negotiating strategy for the 65 non-certified staff, including cooks, custodians, paraprofessionals and some secretaries employed by the district.

- The board was informed that 97 percent of ACGC ninth-grade students passed the state's Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test in writing. The state average is 91 percent. In reading, 78 percent of the district's 10th-graders passed the test, which is in line with the state average. In math, 55 percent of ACGC 11th-graders passed the test. The state average is 58 percent. Students must pass the tests to graduate. Not all of the recent results were available by Monday night.

- The last day to file for school board is Aug. 17. There are four ACGC board members up for election this year. Each term is four years.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750