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833 budget task force mulling $7.5 million in cuts

Meeting in small groups, the District 833 budget task force got to work Feb. 9, and offered suggestions to cut $7.5 million from the 2009-2010 budget.

Some task force members suggested the district freeze wages. The district has collective bargaining contracts in place that could call for that, but only if unions agree, said Superintendent Tom Nelson.

Health insurance contributions are also part of contracts, he said.

Other suggestions, which Nelson reiterated are only suggestions, include raising the fee to participate in sports and some theater activities by $10, cut 12-month office coordinator positions at every school by one or one-and-a-half months and eliminate media specialists or move them to part time.

It was also suggested the district cut world languages, charge for busing for the Nuevas Fronteras Spanish immersion and Gateway gifted and talented programs, making across- the-board cuts by percentages and cutting contracts for teachers who work into the summer months.

There is also a suggestion not to hire a replacement for assistant superintendent of elementary instruction when Linda Rull retires in June of this year.

The district now sends 300 students to Valley Crossing, a school that serves students from three districts. When sixth-graders move to middle school next year, the district could limit the number of students and save $150,000 in tuition, according to Nelson.

Task force members were given a list of more than $4 million in cuts suggested by district department heads to be discussed Monday, Feb. 16, but they also made their own suggested-cut list.

The school board, in late March, is expected to cut $5 million from the approximately $140 million general fund.

The district is not in a dire financial position, Nelson said. It has a $22 million fund balance of unallocated money.

With no increase in education funding expected from the state for two years, and increases in other budget areas, the fund would be wiped out in two years, if cuts were not made now, Nelson said.

"We are a people business," Nelson said, adding that a 1 percent increase in salaries for every district worker costs $1.25 million.

Nelson has suggested the district take $2.5 million that it contributes annually to the district's $31 million internal service fund to pay for retiree benefits and move it to the general fund.

The state allows districts to sell bonds for the fund or the district can return the money to the fund in future years.

Because of incentives for student performance on state tests, the district could receive an additional $1 million, Nelson said.

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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