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Expecting state aid cut, Waubun school board slashes district budget

Next year's budget for the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District was slashed by the School Board Thursday.

The board, by a 5-2 vote, cut $344,000 out of the 2009-10 budget due to fears over the loss of state revenue.

Administrators say that they don't know what the state will give them next year. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed state budget left K-12 funding at current levels.

School officials are hopeful that the federal stimulus package that was signed by Pres. Obama on Tuesday will give the state some wiggle room to fund schools.

Part of the cuts involve cutting a teacher position through attrition -- a first-grade teacher is retiring -- which will save $65,000. The biggest cuts come in capital costs, which include textbooks. The projected capital savings is $115,000.

Superintendent Mitch Anderson said it's important to start cutting now and give the staff a heads up on what is coming.

"We want to get the ball rolling instead of waiting until April or May when the lumps may come," Anderson said.

Not all board members were happy with making the cuts now. Joe McArthur and Mark Rothschadl voted against the cuts.

They stated that they weren't opposed to cuts per se; they thought it was premature to do so without knowing what the state will give the school.

"Some of this stuff is just guessing," said Business Manager Michelle Heisler.

Rothschadl said that the district isn't in a time frame where something needed to be done right away.

Heisler said that even with the state funding potentially staying even, total revenue would be down.

Another point of contention McArthur brought up was a lack of specifics.

He was concerned about what the effects of losing a teacher would be. Anderson said that there would be rearrangements of staff, but no specific proposal was given at the meeting.

McArthur said he's concerned about the impact to class sizes.

"I'd like to see a breakdown of what it would be," McArthur said.

McArthur said that the administration's reluctance to talk about revenue projections isn't a good thing to do, especially when cuts are being proposed based on a loss of revenue.

"We're sweeping it under the rug, and don't want anyone to talk about it or hear about it," McArthur said.

Anderson said that the reluctance to talk about a loss in revenue is to eliminate panic.

"I don't want to give a false projection," Anderson said.

Board member Tom Teiken said that budgets are not necessarily final in this stage of cutting, having been through similar cuts in the '80s.

"Budgets are made to be revised," Teiken said.

Other cuts involve cutting staff development money by $50,000, a two-thirds decrease in what is normally set aside. That cut is dependent on the teachers agreeing to the proposal. The teachers agreed to cut $25,000 this year for staff development.

Despite the major cut, Anderson said that the staff development fund still has plenty of money. "They still have plenty more in the pot to do with it what they want," he said.

Anderson said that the fund has about $70,000 in it currently.

The district will also eliminate a school resource office, eliminate the Youth Frontiers field trip, reduce technology costs, cut $16,000 or 10 percent from the athletic budgets, cut $25,000 in supply costs and reduce Assistant Superintendent Joe Merseth's contract from $22,000 to $6,000.

Merseth is mentoring Anderson and that was a cost that the board agreed to when Anderson was hired as superintendent. Merseth will now visit the school about once a month.

Anderson said that the cost containments represent wants versus needs. He said that some of the capital costs included snow removing equipment that is not necessary in lean times.

Internet payment system approved

The board also approved using PaySchools as an online payment system.

Payments can be made via credit card or as a debit from a bank account.

Heisler said it was a feature that has been requested by parents and staff.

The system would allow parents to pay for school meals online, pay other school fees and allow retirees to pay health insurance premiums.

At first, the online payments will just be used for meals.

"We are just in that technology age," Heisler said.

PaySchools will take a 3.5 percent cut of gross sales.

Heisler said one of the big benefits is that it integrates with the district's existing financial software. She said it would save time in manually entering payments into the system. And it requires little work on the district's end to set up. PaySchools handles all of the processing itself.

"It's simply a link that we put on our Web site," Heisler said.