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Advisory group looks to pare $470,000 from budget

The Ellsworth School District's budget advisory committee is considering approximately $470,000 in adjustments to budgeting for district operations in the next school year.

The 14-member committee, formed early this year, was to hold a first reading about the proposed adjustments on Monday of this week, ahead of official school board action next Monday.

Using the best available projections regarding factors such as enrollment and its corresponding state aids, Superintendent Dan Kaler has forecast a structural imbalance in excess of $450,000 would occur for the 2006-07 year if no changes were made at all. Referring to state-imposed revenue limits, Kaler said Friday the dilemma comes in that the two-plus percent revenue increase allowed here falls short of three percent-plus inflationary rises in costs for operations.

As for enrollment, he reported 106 kindergartners are foreseen in the district next year, down from last year's high of 120. Meantime, 140 12th graders are to leave at the end of this school year, meaning a 34-fewer student difference, and correspondingly lower aids.

Of the measures under consideration and their anticipated financial impact, the largest would be $80,000 from two full-time high school teaching positions. This includes the shift of one block of vocal and one block of instructional music as well as one block of core classes from high school to middle school. One math and science teaching position at the high school would be eliminated, as would a music intern.

A description accompanying the adjustment indicates this reduction of teachers would result in larger class sizes. However, cuts in high school teachers should be expected, considering a projection of 20 fewer students. The only teacher layoff required under the plan is a middle school vocal staff person. That person's time is to be reduced from full-time to two-thirds time. It would be made up at the middle school by the current high school music teachers.

The high school reduction in math and science is to be made up by the retirement of a middle school science teacher and the reassignment of a high school staffer to the middle school.

Also, several high school core staffers would be reassigned to the middle school for a small part of their day. All details of these assignments would be worked out as the principals work through the scheduling process. Preliminary registration at the high school suggests this would work.

An impact of $50,000 would be from one full-time sixth grade section at the middle school. The sixth grade enrollment is projected to drop from 142 to 118, according to the accompanying description, so eliminating one of the six middle school teachers is recommended. This person would be reassigned to fifth grade, where a retirement notification has been received. While the sixth grade prefers keeping six teachers at that level for organizing the day, administration maintains the day can be adjusted to achieve a sixth grade class of approximately the same as this year.

Other potential adjustments, their anticipated financial impacts and accompanying descriptions are:

--.5 high school custodian, $27,000. The custodial work would not be completed to current standards. Operations at the high school would be with fewer custodial hours while students are in session, but two custodians would be available for the evening shift.

--Supply budgets, $10,000. Not all supply budgets would be cut, as they have in the past. Some budgets are too low to adequately give teachers the supplies they need, while other budgets such as music, art and industrial technology would experience the brunt of these cuts. Very little impact on the programs is expected as a result of these reductions.

--Athletic activity budget, $10,000. Athletic supplies, contests and number of workers at events would be trimmed, as would transportation costs for the proposed spring baseball. Specifics are yet to be determined.

--Activity gate receipts, $7,500. Adult ticket prices would increase from $3 to $4 per event. It's estimated over 8,000 adults attend paid events annually. Therefore, an increase of $1 would generate at least $7,500.

--Participation fees, $7,500. High school athletic participation fees would be increased by $5 per participant and high school performing arts fees would be increased to make them equal to the athletic fees. Currently $10 less than the athletic fees, the performing arts fees would go up by $15. These proposed fees are in line with Middle Border Conference schools. The district isn't at the high end, but well above average in the amount charged for participation fees.

--Special Education School Psych Position at 70 percent, $22,000. With the retirement of the full-time school psychologist, declining enrollment and an ability to use Federal Flow-Through dollars on this position, it would be cut from full-time to .7 time for a savings. The retiring psychologist also had responsibilities for Gifted and Talented, which would be shifted to an administrator.

--Special Education Contracted Services CDS Program including transportation savings, $39,750. This change would result in a major savings even though hiring additional properly licensed staff to serve the Cognitive Disabilities, Severe students would be necessary. The intent is to deliver the same quality program as River Falls, do it more economically and have less travel time for the affected students. Three high school students in the program would be allowed to complete their 12th grade year at River Falls, start the elementary and middle school program in the local schools, and phase in the high school program as these students migrate to high school.

--Title I Subsidy--to be paid by Federal Flow-Through rather than Fund 10, $44,300. Approximately $98,000 in Title I funding is presently being received and subsidized with $44,300 of Fund 10, making it possible to hire a second teacher for these services. Special Education Federal Flow-Through money can now be spent on preventing "At-Risk" students from ever qualifying for special education. It's recommended this money be used for Title I services, as Title I is also targeting this very population of students.

--Two high school intern positions--one art and one FACS, $10,000. Fewer sections would be taught in both art and FACS, but the number of students pre-registered for courses in these disciplines is lower. The declining enrollment at the high school is a contributing factor.

--Liability and property insurance reduction, $7,900. A drop in premiums is experienced.

--Copy machine lease agreement, $6,000. The current five-year lease agreement is significantly less than the previous agreement. The projected savings is conservative.

--.5 High School Guidance to Special Education Intern, $37,000. Mary Zimmerman is pursuing a license in Special Education Administration and would spend one-half of her time in that department in an internship experience. This move would save money now and has the potential to save more in the future, should Zimmerman eventually become Director of Special Education. The negative to the move is the high school would now operate with 1.5 full-time equivalent rather than the 2.0 full-time equivalent in the guidance department.

--Activity bus, $42,800. It's possible, even probable, some students would opt out of participating as a result of this reduction in service. An examination of the ridership shows approximately $1,000 per student for the late bus is being spent, on average. The district is one of the last in the state, and the last in this region, to offer this service.

--District media reorganization--the district will employ one library media specialist, $30,000. With the retirement of the high school librarian comes an opportunity to restructure. Initial thoughts are to hire an aide and examine the possibility of a shift in responsibilities for some technology personnel. The amount of the proposed reduction is conservative. There would only be one licensed media specialist in the district, so that person's responsibilities would also be changed. The details of this reorganization remain to be worked out.

--Special Education Salary for Counselors and School Nurse, $33,000. This reduction is made possible by recent changes in legislation. A time study is being conducted to determine the amount of time the school counselors and school nurse spend with special education students, as that time now qualifies for special education categorical reimbursement. The estimated savings is conservative.

--.33 FTE combination vocational education classes designed for serving CDS and other special education students, qualifying the voc ed teachers for special ed categorical aid, $5,400. There's time in the voc ed teachers' schedules to teach courses specifically designed to meet the needs of special ed students. As is the case with the above categorical reimbursement, reimbursement would be received for the time spent teaching these classes. This is a real positive for the high school special ed students.

Kaler wasn't optimistic the state legislature will address the revenue limits issue this session. He reminded basic infrastructure needs in the district, such as roofs, bus purchases, instructional equipment related to technology advances and even musical instruments, have been put off because the money simply hasn't been there.

He also acknowledged a district referendum which approved exceeding the revenue limits by $250,000 annually will expire in 2008. This will be among future issues for input from the committee.

The superintendent hoped the committee--comprised of three parents, three school board members, two principals, two teachers, two support staffers and two administrators--can meet quarterly. The group had already met four times as of this past week and has another meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 23.

School board members want to respond to the community as they deal with the proposed budget adjustments, he said.