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Willmar School Board prepares for $2.5M in budget cuts that may occur next month

WILLMAR -- Decisions on $2.5 million in budget cuts could be made by the Willmar School Board in early February.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard told the board Monday that he expects to have a list of $3 million possible cuts ready for the board to discuss at a Jan. 26 workshop.

"There has to be some choice" for board members in developing a final list of cuts, said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard. He said he hopes board members are ready to vote on the cuts at their Feb. 9 meeting.

Voters approved one part of an operating levy last fall and denied a second part. When that happened, school officials said the district's budget would have to be cut $1.6 million.

However, that estimate included an expected 2 percent increase in state aid in each of the next two years.

Since November, a state revenue forecast showed a budget deficit of nearly $5 billion over those two years. That wipes out any expectations for more state aid for schools and leads to plans for larger budget cuts.

The initial budget decisions may identify positions to be eliminated but will not list specific employee names, Kjergaard said. The names of those losing their jobs should be known in March or April and will be determined using seniority and other factors.

"The people that won't be back need to have as much lead time as they can get," said board member Wayne Lenzmeier.

The budget issue will be the first major use of the new meeting schedule adopted by the board during its annual reorganization meeting.

The board will conduct formal business meetings on the second Monday of each month. Informal workshop meetings will be held on the fourth Monday of most months during the school year. The schedule will be reviewed after six months.

Kjergaard recommended the change. The workshops would include reports from school staff and more discussion of issues, he said. The workshops would be recorded and shown on local access cable. School Board meetings are seen live on local cable.

The workshops will be open, public meetings governed by the requirements of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.

Lenzmeier suggested that the delay between the initial discussion and a board vote would give the public a chance to weigh in on issues, too.

In other reorganization business, the board elected officers: Brad Schmidt as chairman, Dion Warne as vice chairman, Lenzmeier as clerk and Eric Roberts as treasurer.

Mike Reynolds, a former board member who was elected to the board in November, joined the board for a four-year term. Other board members beginning new four-years terms were Lenzmeier, Sandi Unger and Roberts.

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington reported that enrollment has been steady so far this month. The number of students dropped slightly in December, but new enrollments in the first week of January have brought the number back up. The district had about 30 students more in December than it did at the same time a year ago, about 4,100 students.