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Frazee faces major school cuts

At the state of the school address Tuesday evening, Frazee-Vergas School District Superintendent Deron Stender gave a fairly grim outlook on cuts for 2007-08.

"I think people think we can go out on the football field and dig up a can (of money). We don't have a can," he said of lack of funds for the district.

Frazee has dropped below the 1,000 mark with 998 students -- 79 fewer than at the end of the 2005-06 school year -- and is facing an estimated $1.1 million deficit for the 2007-08 year. That deficit means large cuts.

"It's a task that no one on the committee is fond of doing," he said of proposing those cuts.

"When I had to make $300,000 (in cuts) at the last district I was at, I thought that was bad," he said. Stender now says it was nothing compared to the $1.1 million he and the school board are working on.

One possible ray of light is that the Legislature may add 2 percent back to schools, which would grant Frazee-Vergas District $120,000. But that 2 percent isn't certain, and Stender said he doesn't want to take any chances.

"I can't build a budget on something I don't have until we have it," he said.

A couple years ago, he added, the school district was told it would receive a 5 percent increase and got nothing.

"My budget is based on 'I don't know what the state is going to do,'" he said.

Another uncertainty for the district is enrollment. At the start of the year, 80 kids went through kindergarten round-up. Only 57 are attending school. Each of those students is worth $4,974 in state funding.

Stender said he finds the top two reasons people take their kids to other districts is because Frazee didn't offer all-day, every-day kindergarten and rumors of uncertainty of what may happen to the school district.

"Paranoia. It's internally, and I know it's externally," he said.

But to try to preserve some potential students, and although an excess operating funds referendum was defeated again this fall, the district will be offering all-day, every-day kindergarten for the 2007-08 year.

One tactic the board is using to keep even more cuts from happening is spending its reserve funds. Stender said the district maybe has $400,000 in savings, and the board wants to spend all but $50,000.

"We're kind of dancing with the devil having our fund balance so low," he said. "In all likelihood, people will point their finger at me for getting us there."

Audience member Gill Gigstead said, "You didn't create a problem because you stepped in when it was a mess," referring to past Superintendent Joe Merseth and the passing of multiple building bonds, which residents will be paying on until roughly 2014.

But, Stender said, he's proud of the board for wanting to educate the students rather than keeping the fund balance up.

"It's hard. Every board member has some (program) they want to stay," he said.

He said the state recommends that school districts have enough operating reserves to function for three months. Once down to $50,000, he said, the reserves won't even cover payroll.

When asked at what point the school closes it's door, Stender said that's not really his decision.

"It comes down to the voters. They're going to tell us what we're going to do with the school," he said, referring to the repeated failure to pass excess levy referendums.

Audience member Delta Daggett also pointed out that the state may not be quick to help, since the district doesn't want to help itself by passing referendums.

"You have to help yourself before we'll help you," Stender said is the attitude of the state.

He added that if the referendum had passed two years ago, the board would not have to be making these cuts at this point.

Although it isn't official that there will be another referendum attempt this year, Stender said, "if you don't pass a referendum, you'll be in SOD next year."

SOD is statutory operating debt, which means the state will come in and tell the district how to run the school and what things will be done how -- something no one is looking forward to.

"I'm optimistic about what's going to happen," Stender said. "Restructure, reorganize -- that's all I can say. $1.1 million is $1.1 million."

Proposed cuts include:

• Defer curriculum purchases for $100,000.

• Four retiring elementary teachers, who will not be replaced, for $237,263.

• High school counselor for $45,636.

• Business/technology instructor for $60,090.

• Physical education instructor for $44,454.

• Media specialist for $56,949.

• Administrative position for $100,000.

• Music instructor for $66,714.

• Two custodial positions for $61,888.

• Part-time vocational agriculture instructor for $31,262.

• Part-time secondary instructor for $31,362.

• Technology coordinator for $39,572.

• Media assistant for $17,426.

• Secretarial support positions for $38,723.

• District contest director for band for $1,600.

• Marching band for $1,600.

• Pep band for $2,400.

• District contest director for choir for $1,700.

• Vocal activities for $1,200.

• Senior video for $1,500.

• Prom advisor for $500 ("We're going to depend on people to step forward" and help out.)

• Sale of portable classroom for $1,000.

• Revision of in-school suspension for $8,000 ("Now it will be, 'Hello mom and dad, come pick up Johnny. Take Johnny home.")

• Cross-country program for $4,765.

• Cut gymnastics program for $7,501.

• Cut girls and boys golf for $5,690.

• Substitute costs for $575.

• Reduction of football coaches to five for $3,500

• Reduction of volleyball coaches to four for $3,500.

• reduction of basketball coaches for girls and boys to three for $3,200

• reduction of wrestling coaches to three for $1,600

• reduction of boys and girls track coaches to three for $1,600

• replacing drama with one act play for $5,530

* weight room supervisor for $5,000

* Knowledge Bowl for $707

* National Honor Society for $800

* student council for $650

* decrease extra-curricular travel for $1,000

* decrease tournament fees for $1,000

* district cell phone service for $300

* restructure staffing for $25,107

* extended custodial contract for $7,438

* restructure nursing services for $31,311 (If school is over 1,000 students, it is required to have a nurse on staff or contract with one. Now, since fewer than 1,000, it will be using nursing assistants with training.)

* drop MREA membership, which lobbies for education, for $2,234

* supplies for $5,000

* one bus route for $30,000 (The district cut two bus routes two years ago. How long do you want the kids to have to sit? He questioned.)

• paperless payroll for $3,000 (Everything will be direct deposit, and report cards for students will no longer be sent out. Everything will be via the Internet unless parents specifically call in and ask for one to be mailed out.)

• establish project fees for art/FACS for $3,600 ("If you're in an art class (or cooking), you're going to pay for what you're making." Similar to Industrial Arts.)

With all the cuts, there are a few revenue increases as well. They include

• vending machines for $12,000

• concessions for $8,000 (The sale of concessions will be like community service, an idea that came from Perham School District. Students have to work the concession stand for a certain amount of hours in order to graduate.)

• photography for $3,000

• Yearbook sales for $2,000 (Sale price of the yearbook has gone up $10 to $40, otherwise would have to cut yearbook and not have one.)

• Hornet Zone for $5,000.

• Free and reduced applications for $5,000.

• Two percent administration fee on retiree insurance and Cobra for $3,200.

• Sale of gymnastics equipment for $5,000.

• Participation and activity fees for $2,000 (Admission to everything will be the same now, including band and choir concerts for $5, like sporting events.)

The school board has passed a first reading of the cost containment proposal. A second reading will be given at the April 9 meeting.