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Willmar school officials proposed closing two schools, realigning grades in four others

WILLMAR -- Closing buildings, moving programs and grades to other schools and increasing caseloads in special education programs are all on the list of possible budget cuts for the Will-mar School District.

The School Board will make final decisions on which cuts to implement in February or March. At a workshop meeting Monday, the board reviewed a list of cuts totaling $3 million.

Board members will choose from that list to cut $2.5 million from the 2009-2010 budget. The cuts will equal about 6 percent of the district's current general fund budget.

Much of the savings is certain to come through staff layoffs, because about three-quarters of the district's general fund costs are for personnel.

The Willmar School District is one of Willmar's largest employers, with more than 600 employees. The list of proposed cuts has the potential to affect 40 or more full-time and part-time workers, including teachers and support staff.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard and administrators met repeatedly in recent weeks to develop the proposal. The list makes some sweeping changes in the organization of the district's school buildings and increases class sizes throughout the district.

The building changes proposed:

* Lincoln Elementary and Washington Learning Center would close. Lincoln currently has grades K-3. Washington houses the community education department and adult, early child-hood and family education programs.

* Jefferson Elementary, which is currently a K-3 school, would become a kindergarten center for the district's all-day, everyday kindergarten program.

* Washington programs would move to Kennedy Elementary, which is currently a K-4 school.

* Kennedy and Roosevelt Elementary would each house grades 1-5. Roosevelt currently has grades 4-6.

* Willmar Junior High, which currently has grades 7 and 8, would become a middle school with the addition of sixth-graders.

The shifts and closings would lead to staff reductions that could save the district as much as $825,000 in the elementary and middle schools.

At the senior high, fee increases are proposed, as well as higher ticket prices for athletics and other events.

The proposed athletic fees would increase $250 for each of the first two sports and free after that. Current fees are $200 for the first sport, $100 for the second sport, then free. The family cap would be increased from $450 to $700. The new fee structure would apply for grades 9-12. Ninth-graders currently pay lower fees.

Activity fees are proposed to increase from $40 to $60. Admission fees for events and concerts would be increased.

The increased athletic and activity fees are projected to add nearly $90,000 to the district's revenue.

All non-tenured teachers would be laid off this spring. Some of them could be rehired, depending on the district's needs, Kjergaard said.

Kjergaard said caseloads for individuals working in special education have been smaller than at many other districts, and the changes proposed will bring them more in line. The savings from the special education changes will be about $665,000.

Other larger proposals include saving $214,000 by putting off some technology purchases and saving $600,000 by delaying curriculum review and purchases for two years.