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Stillwater schools' budget pain lessened

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news Woodbury, 55125

Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

District 834 School Board received some welcome news - the budget cuts for next school year have decreased to $6.3 million.

"It is good news for 2012-1313, " Ray Queener, District 834 assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, said Feb. 10 during the School Board's workshop learning session at Central Services. "We don't have to cut quite as deep."

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District 834 was previously tasked with cutting $10 million from its operating budget for next year after a levy request seeking additional funding failed in November.

The decrease in projected budget cuts stems from the discovery of a surplus of funds at the end of this school year as well as well as changes in the district's borrowing and fund balances.

However, District 834 could still potentially see $8.5 million in cuts for the 2013-14 school year if the district's current levy is not renewed next November.

"It's a short term good news story," Queener said.

However, if the levy should be renewed at its maximum, District 834 would only face between $2 million and $3 million in cuts.

District 834 School Board discussed several of the proposed budget adjustments, and shifts in the proposals at last week's meeting.

The board has already approved more than $2 million in budget adjustments for the current spring semester.

Since the district must now cut fewer dollars, many of the budget adjustments that received the most public feedback at recent public hearings - elimination of free all-day kindergarten, fifth and sixth grade band and orchestra, one teacher from two elementary schools and counselors at secondary schools - have been postponed until the 2013-14 school year if the levy is not renewed and the projected $8.5 million in cuts must occur.

The first tier

During the learning session, the School Board continued to work from the budget adjustment recommendations that the Budget Advisory Adjustment Committee had presented Feb. 2.

"I'd like to compliment the BAAC committee for getting this ready," said District 834 School Board Chairman George Dierberger.

The budget adjustments are divided into four new priority areas.

The first tier of cuts contains the already approved $2 million in cuts and an additional $2 million in one time budget transfers. After the Tier 1 cuts occur, a remaining 2.3 million in cuts must be found.

Tier 1 was defined as the cuts with the least impact on students.

The second tier

The proposed Tier 2 cuts, totaling $2.1 million, are defined as those that could see an increased impact on students.

Many of the cuts relate to fee increases, staff reductions, class size increases and district department budget reductions and salary decreases for custodial staff.

Revenue options were also discussed.

One of the Tier 2 line items discussed during Friday's meeting is to increase advertising throughout the district, which would add a projected $100,000 in revenue for next school year.

"It's kind of a new thing for schools," said district communication coordinator Carissa Keister "But there are a lot of opportunities for advertising."

The proposed opportunities for advertising include: charging vendors who frequent the school a fee; requiring licenses for companies that use the school's logo in school advertising; outdoor advertising; allowing businesses to sponsor specific events; and fundraising.

School Board member George Hoeppner said he was afraid of opening a can of worms.

"I'm really afraid of this advertising thing," he said. "The state of our district has gotten us to a situation where we're starting to sell out to the highest bidder - it's a dangerous thing that we have to do."

Keister said there is still a lot of work that needs to take place in terms of policies before district advertising could go into effect.

Other items discussed during Friday's meeting included moving the district to a three tier bussing system, where school buses can be used at all three grade levels.

However, moving to a three-tier bussing system would result in a change in school start and end times.

Currently there are two proposed options for the three tier bussing system.

The first option would have middle schools and the high school start at 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. respectively, have elementary schools start at 8:25 a.m. and the charter and private schools, that the district provides transportation for, start at 9:15 a.m.

Denny Bloom, District 834 director of operations, said this option would be the most efficient.

The second options would have secondary schools start at 7:45 a.m., elementary schools start at 8:35 a.m. and the charter and private schools start at 9:15 a.m.

Both options would see $300,000 in savings.

"It's using the busses as many times as you can," Bloom said.

Another item discussed at the meeting related to an increase in athletic and activity fees.

"We heard parents say raise fees and save programs," District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn said.

The proposed increases would be an average increase of 33 percent and generate $94,200 in savings.

"We're ready to implement that and go full steam ahead," said Ricky Mitchel, activities coordinator for Stillwater Area High School.

Hoeppner said he wishes the district could keep fees low for those students who are not able to cover the costs.

"To me, an education experience is academics and activities and arts and athletics," he said. "To me, that's money well spent."

District 834 School Board also discussed the proposal of restructuring Stonebridge Elementary to better align with the district's other schools.

Currently, Stonebridge Elementary's kindergarten and first grade classes function under a model which has students work with paraprofessionals for nearly half of their day.

The proposal would eliminate that model and result in $51,000 in savings.

Previously, this budget item had received considerable negative feedback from parents.

However during Friday's meeting, Stonebridge Principal Derek Berg spoke to School Board members stating that a restructuring is possible.

"Our schools are going to be OK," Berg said. "It opens up a new opportunity for us to serve kids in a different way."

The remaining cuts

The final tier of proposed cuts totals $246,600.

Previously Tier 3 included many of the items that parents spoke out negatively against, but since many of those items have been moved to the 2013-14 school year, Tier 3 only includes a select few cuts.

One of the biggest areas of savings would be to cut special education positions, where allowed by law, thus saving $100,000.

Another big ticket item, in terms of savings, would be to move specialist sections from a 30-minute to 25-minute slot.

District 834 School Board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the proposed budget adjustments at its March 8 meeting.

Visit http://stillwater.k12. mn.us/Budget_Adjustments2.html for more information on the proposed budget adjustments.

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