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833 budget for 2010-11 lower than projected

The District 833 School Board shaved about $1.7 million from the district's 2010-2011 budget at its March 4 workshop.

The budget will still run a $4.5 million deficit, which will come out of the district's $23 million fund balance.

The major cut is a $2.5 million annual payment to the fund that covers retiree expenses. A district consultant told the board last summer that the fund had more money than necessary.

The cut would be offset somewhat by $782,546 in additional spending on a pilot preschool program, lowering class sizes, as well as adding a half-time assistant principal, half-time counselor and custodian at East Ridge High School.

East Ridge will grow from 1,100 to 1,600 students next year because it will have seniors.

Board member Ron Kath said he doesn't see how an additional half-time assistant principal would make a difference.

Four assistant principals were planned for East Ridge but that was pared back to 3.5 when this year's seniors were allowed to stay at Woodbury and Park high schools, said Randy Zipf, superintendent for secondary instruction.

"Why add an additional custodian?" Kath said. "Do seniors need more trash cans?"

Porter said there are many requests for after-school and evening activities at the new school including use of the theater.

Kath said he accepts the additional $700,000 in spending but would not support more than that.

Board members Marsha Adou and Jim Gelbmann applauded $150,000 recommended by Porter to pilot preschool programs for targeted students.

Research shows there is much value in preparing students to enter kindergarten, Porter said. Preschool programs help to narrow the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The proposal to spend $403,000 to lower class sizes in secondary schools by one student to 30.5 students drew much discussion from board members.

Gelbmann asked that another $200,000 be added to address "hot spots" in classes when enrollment is more than 30.5. Board Member David Kemper agreed but there was no support from other board members.

With Board Member Laurie Johnson absent, the board was split as to whether the class-size lowering money should be allocated on the building level or by Zipf.

The proposals that were rejected for next year's budget include: an additional position for Spanish Immersion, additional position in elementary schools based on enrollment, more money for school readiness, half-time custodian at Grey Cloud Elementary School, more money for secondary new student mentoring programs, more secondary staffing, half-time counselors at Cottage Grove and Lake middle schools and East Ridge, and more money to support all-day kindergarten scholarships.

Next year's budget is $149,187,611, up $283,087 from last year.

"I'm very comfortable with this budget," Gelbmann said, adding that he would spend more money if there were board support.

Board Member Tracy Brunnette said the budget is "fine," but is concerned about a higher deficit projected for 2011-2012.

Board members Ron Kath and Marsha Adou accepted the administration recommendations but want to make sure the $2.5 million service-fund payment schedule will be resumed in 2011-2012.

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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