District 191 softens the blow

/ 24 May 2012 / jennifer

John Gessner, SUNThisweek, May 24, 2012 –

Board pares cut list

Budget cuts in School District 191 became a little easier to take May 17 when the School Board reinstated $1.53 million that had been on the chopping block.

Restorations include the equivalent of 11 full-time positions, including three teaching positions at Burnsville High School and three at the three junior highs.

Superintendent Randy Clegg has said the original budget cuts would have claimed 26 positions.

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage board approved the restorations 6-1, with Board Member Sandy Sweep dissenting.

The board is spending down its general-fund balance by about $1 million and taking advantage of about $1.3 million in savings from new employee health care and student transportation contracts to cushion the blow of cuts. The district also learned recently it will receive $500,000 in state literacy funds.

General-fund spending for 2012-13 is expected to total around $109.5 million when the board approves the budget in June.

Without cuts, spending was projected to reach about $114 million, according to Lisa Rider, executive director of business services.

The district is looking for ways to cut about $15 million over the next three budgets.

The board has already dismissed from next year’s budget Clegg’s most controversial proposal — a school calendar with 17 fewer but longer school days. It would have saved an estimated $776,000.

The restorations include a maximum 1-mile walking distance for elementary students.

Cuts of 7.5 teaching positions at the junior highs and seven at the high school had been proposed. Restoring three of the positions at each level costs $492,000.

Cuts include two dean positions at the high school.

The budget doesn’t increase class sizes. Average class-size targets will remain 26.47 at the elementary level and 35 at the secondary levels.

Restorations also include $100,000 for supplies, $100,000 for curriculum adoptions, $46,700 for high school sports and $100,000 for co-curricular and other stipends.

“We’re not taking much, frankly, out of the classroom,” Board Member Bob VandenBoom said. “We added back curriculum, we added back supplies, we added back teachers.”

Sweep managed to secure restoration of 1.5 English as a second language teaching positions administrators had recommended cutting. The board voted 4-3 on her motion to spend $124,500 on the restoration. Sweep, Paula Teiken, Dan Luth and VandenBoom voted for it. Dissenters were DeeDee Currier, Jim Schmid and Board Chair Ron Hill.

Sweep said the district shouldn’t cut those positions until a district team studying new state mandates for English-language instruction gives its report.

“Waiting for the report will not change my recommendation,” Clegg told the board. The English as a second language staff is comfortable with the proposed cut, he said.

Luth originally opposed the restoration but changed his mind when assured that spending the $124,500 wouldn’t compromise the district’s policy of maintaining reserves totaling at least 8 percent of the general fund.

The restoration would push the balance down to 8.1 percent, Rider said.

“That is the lowest it will go. I expect it will increase” by this time next year, she said.

Teiken tried to restore elementary resource teachers, whose funding is eliminated under the proposed budget. Her motion to spend about $485,000 failed 5-2. Sweep joined Teiken in voting for it.