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Minnesota schools making painful budget cuts

Final votes on budget cuts came before a slew of area school boards this week, concluding what has become a solemn Minnesota spring ritual.

Districts such as Barnesville, Norman County East and Pelican Rapids finalized budget cuts packages Monday. In Frazee, the board split on eliminating several teaching positions, in effect killing an administration recommendation to cut them.

Meanwhile, districts kept a close eye on the latest developments in the state Legislature, which resulted in no cuts in school aid but a likely delay in payments to districts that would create cash-flow issues. The Legislature voted to delay $1.7 billion in school payments to help balance the state budget.

The Frazee-Vergas school board turned out a 3-to-3 vote on a controversial proposal to lay off three teachers that Superintendent Deron Stender had said would free up funds for other expenses such as curriculum updates. A seventh board member, Kathy Kallis, resigned last week on the heels of turmoil over the cuts.

The vote spared the jobs of math, social studies and English teachers at the high school. Some board members opposed the cuts out of concern about class size increases they said would go against promises made in campaigning for a 2007 levy referendum.

"That's what we told the voters we were going to do," said member Richard Ziegler about keeping class sizes small, "and that's why I voted against cutting those core teachers."

The board did approve the reduction of a half-time counselor and half-time psychologist positions. Those cuts - along with fee increases the board approved last week - will boost the district's budget by $128,000, Stender said.


In Barnesville, the board unanimously approved a cuts package including the elimination of a media specialist, junior high football and volleyball coaches and part-time support staff positions as well as reductions in supplies and the hours of a business education teacher. The district also won't renew an elementary teaching position.

The board also capped funding for the district's speech program, originally slated for the chopping block, at $2,000.

Superintendent Scott Loeslie said the district hasn't formally approached employees about working a day without pay next school year as an "out-of-the-box way to generate some dollars for the general fund."

Pelican Rapids

In Pelican Rapids, the board voted to cut the hours of four teachers and 11 support staff members as part of a $600,000 reductions package.

Norman County East

The Norman County East school board approved $60,000 in reductions in addition to $30,000 earlier this spring. The cuts involve leaving a bookkeeper position unfilled, trimming staff development money and reducing support staff.

Both Norman County East Superintendent Dean Krogstad and his Pelican Rapids counterpart, Deb Wanek, said their districts might have to borrow money if the state withholds aid payments.

That might be the only option for districts that don't have comfortable reserve funds to dip in, said Minnesota Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Charlie Kyte. But given that counties, cities and higher education institutions face actual budget cuts, he said, "We can't be whining too much."