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No cuts in sight for Detroit Lakes Schools

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Though the administrative offices of the Detroit Lakes School District will be undergoing a shakeup over the next few months, district finances appear to be pretty stable.

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Business Manager Richard Lundeen, who is slated to retire in October, and Superintendent Lowell Niklaus, who will be leaving that office to become the district's education director, presented their final preliminary budget at Monday's school board meeting.

And the news was basically pretty good for Detroit Lakes. The final, revised budget for the 2005-06 school year showed a surplus of $380,906 in the unreserved general fund, reflecting estimated revenues of $18.76 million and expenditures of $18.29 million. Expenditures came in at about 1.1 percent under budget, and revenues about 1 percent over budget.

"We're pretty close to a balanced budget overall," Niklaus noted in a later interview.

The small surplus in the unreserved general fund was due to two main factors, he added -- fuel costs coming in lower than expected, due to warmer weather and a decrease in prices at the pump, and the state releasing a larger portion of the district's state aid payment on time, rather than withholding the funds until the following year.

Lundeen also presented a preliminary budget for the 2006-07 school year that shows a $10,204 overall surplus, based on projected expenditures of $19.1 million.

"For all purposes, that's a balanced budget," Niklaus noted. And with all the district's labor contracts having been settled this past year (each contract is for two years), that means salaries, which account for the largest portion of the district's expenditure budget, won't change until next year.

And while the district's overall enrollment continues to decline, with Detroit Lakes expected to lose as many as 150 students over the next four years, there is a bit of light at the end of that tunnel.

Kindergarten enrollment numbers are up.

"We budgeted for 183 (kindergarten students), and as of this morning, there are 188 registered," Niklaus said. "If past history holds true, we could add between 15-20 more before school starts, which would bring the number over 200."

And while numbers that high would most likely necessitate the addition of at least one more section of kindergarten, Niklaus said it's still "a very positive thing" for the district.

As to whether additional staff would be needed to handle the extra students, Niklaus said, that's not going to be his decision to make. On June 30, he will be handing over the keys to the superintendent's office to Mark Adams.

On Monday, Niklaus underwent his final job evaluation before the board, which he felt was "very favorable."

School Board Vice Chair LuAnn Porter (Chairman Tom Seaworth was not at the meeting) agreed with Niklaus' assessment.

"He got a very high rating in all areas," she said.

On a rating scale of 1 to 3, with 3 indicating that he had exceeded expectations, and 1 meaning that expectations had not been met, Niklaus was assessed in a variety of areas: How well he worked with the business manager on budgeting and financial matters, how well he kept the board informed of any problems that come up, as well as legislative matters of concern, keeping the district's policies up to date with state standards, how well he manages the district's federal Title programs and more.

"He was given 3's pretty much across the board," Porter said. "He's done an extremely good job for us.

Porter said that even as the district was going through such problems as declining enrollment and cuts in state and federal funding, "he never lost sight of what our district's goal is -- to do what's best for kids."

As for Niklaus, he said the reality of his imminent departure from the superintendent's chair hasn't really sunk in yet.

"I feel like I'm just changing chairs, and offices," he said, referring to the fact that he will become the district's new education director on July 1. "When July rolls around, I'm sure it will have a different impact, but I've been so busy I haven't really had time to think about it."

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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