Forest Lake School Board weighs staff cuts vs. spend savings

/ 6 March 2012 / jennifer

Loretta Harding, Forest Lake Press, March 6, 2012 –

FOREST LAKE — A growing economy has created a brighter state budget outlook but school districts are still feeling a funding pinch.

Although the February, 2012 Economic Forecast showed the state of Minnesota can expect a $323 million surplus for the current two-year budget cycle (FY 2012-13) in addition to the $876 million surplus reported in the November 2011 Economic Forecast, the Forest Lake School District must still cut $300,000 from its 2012-13 budget.

In her report, Superintendent Linda Madsen said that under current law, the first $5 million of the surplus will go toward refilling the state’s budget reserve back to its target of $653 million, and the remaining $318 million will go toward paying back the K-12 education shift. There is still $2.4 billion in school payments to be made to completely reverse the shifted payments, she said.

The paid back money that districts will start receiving in March will increase the cash flow and pay down debt, but will not provide additional revenue, Madsen said. The district would know more within the next couple of weeks

Because state surplus dollars won’t be able to help the district for a while, district administrators approved the budget reduction recommendations at the Jan. 5 meeting, and the school board will formally approve the budget cuts at the March 29 meeting.

The district plans to cut $118,000 in East Metro Integration District spending; $10,000 for curriculum writing; $32,000 in class room leasing to LILA for the 2012-13 school year; $25,000 to reduce one special education teacher and $115,000 to reduce 2.5 full time equivalent general education teachers.

The district’s other option would be to spend fund balance money instead of making staffing cuts.

“I hesitate to put up using fund balance as an option, but it’s something to consider for the next meeting,” Madsen said.“I’d lean toward using the fund balance,” Board Member Erin Turner said, citing class size issues at the beginning of the year and better education of students as a reason for retaining staff.

“I don’t want to see teachers cut — it disturbs the culture of teachers and students,” Board Member Gail Theisen said.

Board Member Kathy Bystrom stressed the importance of keeping curriculum writing. “I’d like us to consider adding that to the fund balance draw down and keep that $10,000 in place,” she said.

Budget cuts could have been much worse, Bystrom said. “The administration did incredible things over the past year to generate a revenue stream and keep costs down.”

And, thankfully, voters approved the levy this past fall, Madsen added.

The board will decide whether to keep staff or keep the fund balance up at its March 29 meeting when they formally approve the 2012-13 budget reductions.

The Legislature did good things for education with a very tight budget,” Board Member Karen Morehead said. “We have to keep hammering — try to be positive and stay on top of them for the things we need.”