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Willmar School District seeks public and employee input on budget cuts

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School District wants to hear everyone's ideas of how to make its next round of budget cuts.

For the second year in a row, the district is using its Web site to seek the views of staff and the public.

Estimates at this point indicate that the district may need to cut $1.4 million from its budget for the 2010-11 school year. Depending on how the state handles a projected budget deficit, that number could grow as high as $3 million, according to information provided to the Willmar School Board.

Last year, employees and the public were asked to submit suggestions for budget cuts, said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard. This time, a survey has been posted on the Web site.

The survey includes four questions and then asks respondents to rank a list of nine district goals by importance. It also asks people to tell whether they are community members or employees.

The survey gives the option of including name, phone number and e-mail, but it's not required.

The questions ask what services are viewed as essential, which ones are important but could be cut if needed and which ones are non-essential. A final question asks for budget cutting suggestions.

The goals to be prioritized include a variety of statements, including "Maintain competitive salaries and benefits," "Emphasize K-3 education," and "Foster positive school and community relationships."

They survey will be an important part of the process as school officials develop a list of potential cuts, Kjergaard said.

"I'd really like the community to do it," he said. "We want their input."

Every suggestion received last year was considered, he said.

Many of the last year's ideas were included at least partially in the $2.8 million in budget cuts the district made. The cuts last year included increased class sizes and the closing of two smaller elementary schools, as well as a reorganization of the district's schools for grades K-8.

"Every one we got last year we looked at," Kjergaard said.

"There's some stuff we can't do because it's illegal," he added. For example, one suggestion last year was to stop providing bus transportation for children who live within five miles of their school. However, state law requires that busing be provided for elementary students who live more than one mile from school and for secondary students living more than two miles from school.

The problem the district faces this year is that so many things have been cut in recent years because of tight controls on state funding and because of a loss of funding due to declining enrollment, Kjergaard said.

"We just don't have a lot of stuff left," he said.

To participate in the survey, go to the district's Web site and click on "Take the WPS Budget Reduction Survey, 2010-2011" on the left side of the screen.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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