NEW ULM - As every cash-conscious educator knows, school budget planning in times of financial stress is a balancing act.
As the District 88 School Board engages in a review of both potential cost-saving and potential revenue-boosting measures, Superintendent Harold Remme has listed "important concepts to maintain and protect."
These priorities are: maintaining a fund-balance cushion "beyond district policy;" maintaining manageable class sizes at all levels; maintaining and protecting core course areas; maintaining the focus on improving student achievement; and maintaining an aggressive program of staff development.
In preparation for discussing a list of specific cuts on March 25 (ranging from $450,000 to $600,000), officials have done the following as part of building the 2010-11 budget:
Examined the impact of staffing changes on class section sizes.
Reviewed, or will review, the impact of changes to existing programs: all-day every-day kindergarten; grade seven and eight activities; the $50,000 position of the academic coordinator of excellence (who coordinates testing, data management and aspects of staff development); and summer contracts for counselors, ag teachers and the nurse (with a combined value of $9,339). (The summer ag program is required to qualify for vocational funding.)
A list of suggested cuts to next year's
budget will be brought before the District 88 School Board on March 25. The target for
reductions is $450,000 to $600,000.
Prepared to consider new ideas: increasing fees for activity participation and admissions; using volunteer workers at events; charging a fee for student parking at the high school site; using internal transfers where appropriate; renewing or increasing an operating levy referendum.
(A levy of $420 per student expires in 2012, and another, $300 per-student levy, in 2017.)
Approved an early retirement incentive that should result in replacing older teachers with less senior personnel.
Looked at cutting general supplies (a current total of $222,000), instructional supplies ($270,000) and individual instructional supplies ($143,000).
One problem, point out officials, is that, over the past decade, the school system already squeezed savings out of most areas of the budget.
It has reduced administration and teachers, changed its transportation system, delayed textbook purchases, closed school buildings, reduced the number of student school days, increased fees, transferred funds where possible, improved energy efficiency, passed local levy referendums, adjusted to flat funding from the state, implemented cash flow borrowing and compensated for delayed state payments, to quote a list by Remme.
So, say officials, they are running out of things to cut - and have to start looking at "creative" long-term solutions.
They quote some possibilities to examine (not necessarily for next year, but over a longer term): a four-day school week or a flexible school year; stand-alone special education services; contracting for custodial, clerical and food services; a merit pay (Q-comp) plan; modifying the length of all contracts; online learning courses; alternatives to quarter/semester organizational patterns (trimesters, or project-based learning with an interim-type program for grades 11-12); and a switch to a K-11 program, with post-secondary enrollment option for grade 12.
"Just thinking outside the box - don't get nervous out there," Remme says. "The way we'd do any of this, probably, would be through task forces - which would evaluate the positives and negatives of any solution."