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District 833 budget-cut proposal now at $4.6M

Young musicians may play on in District 833 as spending cuts to grade-school band and orchestra instruction and other programs are at least temporarily off the budget-cutting block.

A revised plan to erase an $8 million shortfall for the 2015-16 school year relies on cutting about $4.6 million in spending and using more than $3 million of reserve funds.

That plan, to be discussed Thursday by the South Washington County School Board, delays the possibility of more than $3 million in cuts to grade-school music, elementary reading recovery efforts, special education and other services until 2016-17.

The budget revisions were based on public input and additional district review, according to Superintendent Keith Jacobus.

The district’s estimated revenue for the 2015-16 school year is $189 million but its expenses are expected to top $197 million, creating the $8 million shortfall.

To reduce next year’s spending by $4.6 million, the district proposes to:

-- Cut staff in preschool through grade 12 by $1.4 million, or roughly 25.5 positions

-- Eliminate world language in elementary school for $550,000, or 10 positions

-- Reduce school support services by over $1 million by eliminating 13 positions, suspending some standardized testing and making other spending cuts

-- Hold off on bus purchases for $700,000 and cut transportation administration by $90,000

-- Increase student activity fees by $10 for $35,580 total, and collect more billing revenue for $220,000

-- Capture other savings totaling about $675,000

The primary reason for the revisions was recent community feedback, according to Jacobus. Roughly 400 people attended recent public budget meetings and the district received more than 700 online comment submissions. The secondary reason for the changes was further administrative consideration through two budget committees.

School Board members had not planned to use reserve funds to help balance the budget but changed their minds after seeing the $8 million deficit. Doing so means the district will draw down its reserves to only 2.9 percent of the operating budget, when its policy has been to keep between 5 and 9 percent on hand.

The district plans to seek a levy increase and will look to the state for increased funding in order to avoid those additional $3.4 million in cuts in 2016-17.

The $3.4 million in cuts that would be delayed by tapping budget reserves includes: secondary schools staffing, $385,000; special education staffing, $180,400; eliminating elementary school band and orchestra, $467,500; reducing reading recovery at elementary schools, $385,000; and contracting for student bus service, $2 million.

School Board members do not have to approve a budget until June, but employee contracts require notification soon of potential layoffs for next school year so a tentative plan must be identified.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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