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School board OKs $330,000 in new cuts

When it comes to balancing the district budget, the Detroit Lakes School board hasn't had much to smile about lately.

Acting on a recommendation from Superintendent Lowell Niklaus, the board approved nearly $330,000 in cost containments at its regular meeting Monday night.

Though all of the recommended cuts had been discussed at previous meetings, the bottom line was significantly higher than the $200,000 in cuts originally projected at the December school board meeting.

There were multiple factors that led to the increase in cuts, as Niklaus explained in a later interview.

First, due primarily to changes in enrollment, the state decreased its compensatory revenue allocation to the district by $47,000. Compensatory revenue is money that the district receives from the state, which is based on the percentage of students in the district who are receiving free and reduced meals (i.e., students from lower income families).

Second, due to significant caseload increases for the district's speech therapy department, Niklaus recommended a .5 FTE increase in speech therapy staff, at a cost of $20,000.

Third, a staff retirement at the Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center's Recovery School will result in a staffing realignment for the ALC and high school counseling departments that includes a .5 FTE increase in high school counseling services, at a cost of $20,000.

Fourth, the members of Education Minnesota-Detroit Lakes voted last month to increase the amount of money to be set aside for staff development in 2006-07.

For the past couple of years, Niklaus noted, EMDL had agreed to decrease the recommended 2 percent set-aside for staff development to .25 percent.

"We built our budget based on them doing that again this year," Niklaus said.

But EMDL voted for a 1 percent staff development allocation in 2006-07, not .25 percent, which caused a need to increase the district's cost containments by $85,000.

Niklaus also noted that enrollment projections for 2006-07 won't become final until the first day of school in September. They could be higher, or lower, than the projected totals.

Because of these factors, a total of $329,23 in cost containments were approved on Monday night. Those measures that will take effect at the start of the 2006-07 school year include:

n A Detroit Lakes Middle School restructuring proposal, previously approved at the March board meeting, which will change the district's class scheduling from a trimester to a semester system.

This proposal also included some changes in course offerings that will result in the reduction of one FTE position in industrial technology between the middle and high schools (the reduction will be accomplished by not replacing a retiring teacher); the reduction of one art position and one FACS (food and consumer sciences) position from full to part time. This will result in a cost savings of $90,000 to the district.

n A reduction in the annual general fund transfer to the transportation fund of $50,000. The district does an annual fund transfer from the general fund to transportation in order to balance the transportation budget. This would cause deficit spending in the transportation fund, though the fund balance would still be adequate.

"This reduction can only be done on a year-by-year basis," Niklaus said, noting that the district had also reduced the transfer amount in 2005-06.

n A change in occupational therapist services from contracting with St. Mary's Regional Health Center for part-time use of its occupational therapist services, to hiring an occupational therapist outright and selling part of the contract to Frazee Schools. This would result in a savings of about $11,000.

n Elimination of a $4,500 allocation for school board elections, due to the fact that there will be no elections this year.

n An increase in student admission prices for activities, from $2 to $3, resulting in a revenue increase for the district of approximately $3,000.

n High school English/Spanish staff restructuring. The middle school restructuring proposal approved in March included the elimination of an exploratory Spanish course, and declining enrollment in the Spanish program at the high school has resulted in fewer sections of Spanish classes being required.

Currently, the district has a Spanish teacher at the high school who is also certified in English. One part-time English teacher at the high school has resigned her position, effective at the end of this school year. Niklaus recommended that the district continue to employ the Spanish instructor full-time, but to divide their duties between teaching Spanish and English. This would result in a savings of $27,523 for the district.

n A reduction in the plant repair budget of $16,000 by cutting back on turf maintenance and some other repairs.

n A reduction in the textbook budget of $50,000. The district had originally increased its 2006-07 textbook budget by this amount, to accommodate the purchase of textbooks in a core curriculum area, but upon review, it was determined that there was no scheduled purchase of core curriculum textbooks for the coming year. This will result in the total textbook budget for 2006-07 being frozen at the previous year's level.

A reduction of $35,000 in the district's overall instructional supplies budget. Niklaus had planned for a $60,000 increase in the instructional supplies budget due to the fact that it had not bee increased in four years, but upon review, staff determined that only a small increase was necessary.

n A reduction in the plant operations budget for supplies and utilities of $42,000, based on projected costs.

The total cost containment figure of $329,023 could be adjusted once more definite enrollment projections become available, Niklaus noted.

Unfortunately, the bad news didn't end with these budget reductions. Niklaus also informed the board on Monday that federal budget cuts to the Title programs for remedial math and reading instruction, technology, limited English proficiency, safe and drug free schools (which pays for drug and alcohol counseling services) and class size reduction has resulted in a loss of approximately $98,000 in overall Title funding for the district.

This includes a cut of nearly $73,000 in the Title I program, which provides remedial instruction services in math and reading. Because most of the Title I budget is spent on salaries and benefits, Niklaus said staffing cuts were likely.

The news wasn't entirely bad, however. Niklaus also informed the board that current kindergarten enrollment projections are somewhat higher than originally anticipated.

A total of 141 kids showed up at the district's annual kindergarten roundup, and the parents of 43 more kindergarten-age students have indicated their intention to send their children to DL schools, Niklaus said. That means a projected enrollment of 184 kindergarten students for next year.

"Typically, we gain about 20 kids between now and the start of the school year," he added. That would bring total enrollment up over 200 -- possibly requiring the addition of another class section at the kindergarten level. Though this could result in a need for increased staff, Niklaus said it would also be bringing more state aid revenue into the district.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454