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School Board discusses need for possible budget cuts next year

WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board could be making budget cuts next year, despite funding increases from the state.

At Monday’s board meeting, board members and administrators discussed some of the reasons that cuts could be looming

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington said questions were raised in the community after the board approved the 2014-15 budget last month. She warned then that budget cuts could be on their way in a year.

The budget estimated revenue of about $47 million and expenditures of about $50 million for 2014-15.

“We spend more than we take in,” Harrington said.

In the recent past, the district’s revenues exceeded expenditures. That changed two years ago when the district spent more money to try to raise achievement on state tests and to work on closing achievement gaps between different groups of students, particularly in the two elementary schools.

A federal School Improvement Grant has been available for Kennedy Elementary for the past two years. Kennedy will receive a grant again this year, but that will be the end of its eligibility for the grants.

The district has been using its own resources to offer similar opportunities for students at Roosevelt Elementary, and the effort has yielded positive results, she said. However, a year from now will be faced with the challenge of continuing the effort at both schools without federal funding, Harrington said.

New features in the elementary schools include paraprofessionals who provide small group instruction for all students in reading and math and instructional coaches to work with teachers on new techniques.

“We brought in well beyond what the SIG grant covers,” she said.

Board members said they have had questions about how additional state funding is being used. That includes an increase in the state’s basic funding formula for schools and full funding for all-day, every day kindergarten. The district has provided full-time kindergarten classes for a decade at its own expense.

“Revenues did go up, but so did expenses,” Harrington said. The district’s reserves could cover the shortfall for a couple years but can’t do it indefinitely, she said.

“I think people thought there would be this windfall,” said board member Mike Reynolds.

If revenue and expenses were equal, the district might have seen that, Harrington said.

In other budget-related discussions, Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the district is now paying for orchestra after several years of receiving funding from the Music Matters organization.

“It’s an 85-year-old program we want to keep going,” Kjergaard said.

Kjergaard talked about the district’s marching band program, too.

Marching band was cut several years ago. It cost about $60,000 for a one-month summer program, Kjergaard said, and he thought he could bring it back if he could get the cost down to $30,000.

“I’m ready to talk about bringing it back,” he said. “In fact, we had some serious discussions about it. I just wasn’t able to do it.”

Along with the lack of funding, there was a lack of staff interest, he said.

Human Resources Director Liz Fischer said an informational meeting for prospective substitute teachers is scheduled for noon, July 22 at The Oaks. The district often has trouble finding subs so Fischer decided to ask businesses to allow employees to be substitute teachers. Anyone with a four-year degree can apply for a sub license.

The board approved a number of personnel moves in one motion.

The board accepted the resignation of Middle School Assistant Principal Beckie Simenson, effective July 31. Simenson was recently hired as principal of Litchfield Middle School. Her successor has not been named yet.

The personnel list included several new administrators: Lori Lockhart, principal at Roosevelt Elementary; Hillary Hornor, assistant principal at Roosevelt; and Kristin Dresler, assistant principal at Kennedy Elementary. A number of teachers have been hired to fill vacancies left by retirements.

Human Resources Director Liz Fischer said much of the hiring has been done for the summer, though some positions still need to be filled before school starts in September.

The board also adopted the district’s health and safety policy and approved a budget for state-funded health and safety projects. The state requires the policy and budget be addressed each year.

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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