New Ulm Schools cuts about $1.1 million from budget

/ 15 March 2012 / jennifer

Amanda Dyslin, Mankato The Free Press, March 15, 2012 –

NEW ULM — New Ulm Supt. Harold Remme described the past five months of planning that led up to Thursday night’s school board vote as “distasteful and very depressing.”

But in about an hour, the board managed to do what was necessary and cut about $1.1 million from the budget. The cuts come after $1 million already had been made in recent years, and all are a direct result of a lack of adequate state funding for education, as well as levy failure, Remme said.

“It’s nothing that we want to do,” said board member Duane Winter. “It’s a necessary evil with how the government set us up here.”

About 30 items were on the list of budget adjustments in five categories: activity programs, personnel, transfers/donations, transportation and miscellaneous items. Various items were voted through without discussion, but a few were sticking points with some board members.

The cut that resulted in the most discussion was eliminating 10 full-time teaching positions, including classroom and special education teachers. Board member Patricia Hoffman said the $500,000 cut has the most devastating effect on schools. “It’s always traumatic when you have to cut staff,” Hoffman said, who then asked the board what would happen if the district were to regain revenue. “Could we make some type of stipulation that this would be the first reinstated item? … I do think that’s been our primary focus, to keep class sizes as low as possible.”

Winter and Remme agreed that they didn’t think resolutions should be made on hypotheticals, nor could they promise staff that they would be hired back if funding became available. Winter said nothing in the budget suggests the district would have the funds to hire anyone back soon.

“I’m not sure 10 teachers is enough,” Winter said.

However, Remme said adding staff would certainly be a priority down the line if the funding tide were to turn.

Board members expressed concerns with restructuring media coordination or computer lab staffing (a $50,000 cut) and eliminating NWEA testing at New Ulm High School ($4,500). Those items were set aside for future discussion.

All other adjustments were voted through by the board.

Other major cuts include:

— An early retirement incentive; eight teaching staff have committed ($200,000)

— Reorganizing and restructuring clerical personnel ($90,000)

— Activities department increases in fees and cuts ($77,860-81,860)

— Cutting one bus route ($38,000)

— Three-day furloughs for the superintendent’s and business office, the maintenance and activity director and other non-unionized employees (up to $13,500)

Only one item was removed from the list: $125,000 to be saved by going to a four-day school week. Due to ongoing contract negotiations with district union employees, the district can’t apply to the state for approval of a four-day week. The application deadline is April 1, which will make a four-day week out of reach until at least fall 2013.