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833 considers staff cuts to save money

The sky is not falling, Superintendent Tom Nelson told the District 833 School Board at the Jan. 8 workshop. The district is "in good shape" but will be in better condition in upcoming years if it curbs spending now, he said.

He recommended the board increase class sizes by an average of one-half student at all grade levels. It would cut 12 full-time teaching positions for an estimated savings of $680,000.

An additional savings could come from not paying $2.5 million into the district's $31 million internal service fund that exists to pay benefits to retired teachers.

The fund is fully funded this year, he said. The state now allows districts sell 30-year bonds to service the fund, which Nelson is not recommending. At some point in the future, however, the district would have to replace the money.

Nelson recommends forming a committee of teachers, board members, principals, student board members, parents and two members of the citizens' financial advisory committee to come up with options to find an additional $3.2 million in savings.

He said final decisions should be made by March 1.

The district currently has a $23 million fund balance, but it would be used up in two years if cutbacks are not made now that would continue beyond next year.

The Legislature is facing a $5 billion deficit and it might get worse, Nelson said. The best education can hope for is no cuts.

Board Member Jim Gelbmann said education could see reductions. "The sky isn't falling but it's starting to shake a little bit," he said.

Three years ago, the board approved discretionary teaching positions at all schools. School site teams decide how they are used. Newport Elementary School has a remedial math teacher, for example.

Board Chair Ron Kath said he would cut 22 discretionary jobs before raising class sizes.

District Finance Director Aaron Bushberger said the savings would be $1.3 million.

Gelbmann and board members Marsha Adou and Denise Kapler disagreed. They want to hear from building principals and site teams before considering cutting those positions.

"You might have to do both," Nelson said.

Class-size research could fill the boardroom, Nelson said, adding that the most recent research suggests teachers' relationships with students make the most difference.

Board members said they don't want recommendations from the budget committee. Instead, they want a list of options to discuss.

The 2009-2010 budget is not finalized until June, Nelson said, but class sizes need to be set by March to allow for notifications and possible requests for hearings.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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