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NLS says budgetary cuts may be less than previously expected

NEW LONDON -- Better-than-expected budget news means the New London-Spicer School District won't need to make as deep cuts as had been earlier anticipated.

Instead of cutting nearly $500,000 from the budget over the next two years to avoid moving into statutory operating debt, the district is expected to cut about $400,000 over two years and end up with a positive fund balance at the end of this year.

"We see a positive trend coming," Board Chairman Robert Moller said during the NLS board meeting Monday, adding that there are still "a lot of what-ifs" with the budget, including what action the Legislature could take.

Superintendent Paul Carlson credits increased student enrollment this year, past budget cuts, revenue from the referendum and managements adjustments in areas like post-employee benefits and pre-paid health care premiums for the improved out-look.

At the end of the 2009-10 school year the district had a negative 1.8 percent un-designated fund balance, said Carlson, which was close to the negative 2.5 percent that puts a district into statutory operating debt.

A recent review of the budget indicated the district has a positive fund balance today and could end the year with a $180,000 fund balance.

"There's definitely a positive movement that we're seeing at the moment," said Moller, while acknowledging that the projected positive fund balance is a long way from the $750,000 fund balance auditors recommend for NLS.

Because of the new financial outlook, the board is considering a pared-down package of cuts to implement.

"There's been some changes since our first draft," said Carlson

The list of items to consider includes a total of $221,140, but Moller said the board should mull over the items and decide if the list should be reduced or increased.

"Now is not the time to cut back in our cuts," Board member Mike O'Brien said.

That list currently includes proposed reduction of hours to high school staff including business education, Spanish and music -- with one band instructor for 6-12 grades.

A second category of $52,802 in cuts in the "potentially consider" column includes cutting the hours of a school counselor.

Items that appear off the list at this time including cutting kindergarten to four days a week and charging a fee for all day every day kindergarten.

The board isn't expected to final action on the cuts until April.

Because staff would likely be affected, Moller said it's important that action be taken soon so letters can be sent and hearings held if necessary.

In other action:

- The board approved an agreement to share a food services director with the Willmar and Montevideo school districts on the condition that school board there also approve the plan. Under the cost-neutral plan, NLS would purchase 20 days of service from the current Willmar food service director at a cost of $10,000.

- The board approved a new three-year contract with Carlson that calls for no increase from his current annual salary of $108,402. The annual performance pay incentive, however, was increased from $4,000 to $5,000.

- The board approved a contract with Palmer Bus Service, which includes the same rates the district had with the previous owner of the bus company.

- The resignation of long-time kindergarten teacher Pat Schoneman, after 27 years with the district.

Carolyn Lange

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

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