School reviews finances, eyes future

/ 7 March 2012 / jennifer

Kylie Saari, Fairmont Sentinel, March 7, 2012 –

FAIRMONT – Fairmont Area School board members spent Tuesday evening answering questions sparked by two years of budget cuts and one failed referendum.

The public forum was the first of three meetings meant to focus on student enrollment trends, alternative school calendars, and ways to increase revenue or cut expenses.

The discussion included a possible operating referendum in November, an idea the district has been batting around since failing in its bid last fall for fresh funding from local voters.

Board member Diane Gerhardt outlined the district’s budget outlook, which projects a negative general fund balance of $1.7 million by 2014-2015.

“In [school year 14-15], that is where it all falls apart for us,” Gerhardt said. “There is a big problem coming right down the pipe, isn’t there?”

Gerhardt noted there is a possibility of increased enrollment, increased state aid and reduced costs, but there is no guarantee.

“We have to go based on what we know today,” she said.

The questions officials addressed included the costs of all-day kindergarten compared to half-day; potential savings of cutting junior high sports and fifth- and sixth-grade music; and what items the district can legally charge for.

According to the district, the cost for seven full-time kindergarten teachers and four aides, plus supplies, is $495,425 per year. Revenue from the state for the kindergarten program is $497,055.

Junior high sports cost the district $16,835, while elementary music runs $119,561.

Gerhardt stressed that the district is not looking at cutting these programs, but was asked about the costs.

“We are in great shape for this year,” said Superintendent Joe Brown, citing increased enrollment and a jump in free and reduced lunch compensation. “We need to plan [for] one and half years from now.”

It is that future that brought up discussion of another round of operating levy attempts. Officials talked about a potential levy increase of $500 per pupil unit by asking for a replacement of a current levy – which expires in 2013-14 – with a $1,000 levy.

The cost on a $100,000 home would be about $236 per year, which represents an increase of $131 more than residents are paying now.

Brown pointed out that surrounding districts are asking for much more from their residents – Martin County West has a $1,400 per pupil unit levy, Truman is approved for $1,550, and Granada-Huntley-East Chain gets $2,700 per student from taxpayers.

Brown stressed that an increase in the operating levy would allow the district to continue its current programing without cuts.

Officials also presented a potential school calendar for the coming school year that looks like a traditional school year, along with calendars from Austin, which uses the 45/15 calendar, commonly known as year-round school; and New Ulm, which is in the process of going to four-day school weeks.

Gerhardt said Fairmont will use a traditional calendar next year, but she encouraged conversation about alternatives.

Two additional public meetings on the school budget are scheduled – on March 13 and March 26. Both will be held at 6 p.m. in the William Budd Room at Fairmont Elementary.–eyes-future.html