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833 class sizes to increase next year

Anticipating no additional money from the state, School District 833 is slated to raise class sizes by an average of one-half student next year at all grade levels.

The District 833 School Board voted unanimously in favor of increasing class sizes to save money at its Jan. 22 meeting.

It's early in the budget review cycle, but the outlook is bleak for more state money, according to district officials and Superintendent Tom Nelson.

Class sizes must be set now to allow time to cut 11 teaching positions to save $650,000 and for those teachers to request hearings on dismissals, according to Mark Porter, assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services.

Finance Director Aaron Bushberger said the district would still be at one less student per class than in the 2004-2005 school year. The decision could be changed later this year if the revenue forecast changes, but Bushberger said the district is forecasting there will be no additional funding for at least three years.

Nelson said class sizes in grades kindergarten through third grade will not rise because the district receives class-size reduction funds for those grades for approximately 50 additional teachers.

Board Member Jim Gelbmann said he ran for the school board 12 years ago because class sizes were too high, but does not oppose raising class size for next year.

"It's not our district that's in trouble," he said. "It's the state that's in trouble.

The district has a "healthy" fund balance, according to Bushberger and Nelson, and is not in financial difficulty. However, if nothing is cut, $23 million in unallocated money will be spent in two years.

Board members, at the Jan. 22 meeting, also approved appointing a budget review committee made up of three members from each of the following: school board, citizen's finance task force, principals, teachers, parents and two students.

The committee, which will meet four times, is charged with coming up with $7.5 million in budget-cut suggestions that will be presented at the March 5 school board workshop.

Bushberger and Nelson are recommending the board cut $5 million from the suggested list.

Cuts are based on a set of assumptions that include, for the first time since the early '80s, no additional students and declining interest rates on district investments.

Because of required hearings and notification, the district can't ask voters for a referendum next year for additional money to operate schools, according to Nelson.

While cutting the budget, district expenses continue to go up. A 1 percent increase in employee pay costs $1.5 million and double-digit increases in health insurance can be expected, according to Bushberger.

East Ridge High School will increase the budget by $3.7 million a year.

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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