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Budget reduction proposal unveiled to school board

Proposed budget reductions for the 2007-08 school year totaling $826,707 were presented to the Ellsworth School Board Monday.

Of the nine items involved in the proposal, eight are related to a plan to reconfigure the school district's grade structure. Superintendent Dan Kaler said the proposal is being recommended by the administration with support from the majority of the long range planning committee members.

The reconfiguration would involve serving early childhood education at the present Lindgren Elementary School, kindergarten through fourth grade at Hillcrest and Prairie View elementary schools, grades 5-8 at Ellsworth Middle School, grades 9-12 at Ellsworth High School and closing Sunnyside Elementary School.

Kaler cited the district's history of enrollment decline and need to reduce programs and services due to revenue not keeping pace with inflationary costs as main factors in the recommendation. The lone reduction item not a result of the reconfiguration plan calls for a reorganization of special education director, dropping Cooperative Educational Services Agency services, in the amount of $43,300.

The rest of the recommended items and the amounts are: utilities for Sunnyside Elementary, $15,200; 1.5 custodian positions, $77,212; two library aide positions, $68,742; two building secretary positions, $87,443; 7.3 elementary teachers, $475,000; two lead teacher salaries, $8,810; shuttle bus, custodial, staff and principal mileage savings, $25,000; and (a revenue enhancement) a lease agreement for the area Head Start program at the present Lindgren Elementary, $26,000.

The presentation was a first reading for action by board members next month. Meantime, the board approved two public hearings about the proposed budget reductions and grade reconfiguration for next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m., both in the high school cafetorium. They'll also hold a special school board meeting there to act on the proposals on Monday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m.

The district would incur some moving costs related to the reconfiguration, Kaler said. He expected the total not to exceed $20,000, with moving special education from Hillcrest to the present Lindgren not to exceed $10,000 and other transportation for moving not to exceed $10,000 as well.

In the interest of avoiding layoffs, the board in closed session approved offering incentives to teachers to retire this year, the superintendent said yesterday. School officials will work with teachers on the details, he said.

In other business Monday:

--A buildings and grounds committee meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 5:30 p.m. at the superintendent's office to consider a couple of issues. Kaler said the long-range planning committee feels the need to seek outside professional advice on matters regarding the proposed plan to replace the $250,000 non-recurring referenda to exceed the revenue limit, the plan for the future of the community swimming pool and the plan for obtaining resources essential to maintain and care for the district's schools. He especially mentioned questions surrounding the pool, including the life expectancy of its dome and payback if there were to be a permanent structure, as examples. He's recommending Requests for Proposal be sought. Additionally, the "Safe Routes to Schools" grant program as it applies to the district is to be discussed.

--The resignations of Lindsey Quinn as education aide at Ellsworth Middle School and Lonnie Bechel as custodian at Ellsworth High School were accepted.

--The proposed school calendars for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years were presented to the board by Mark Stoesz of the calendar planning committee. Highlights reported by Stoesz include a change in the Martin Luther King Day schedule for educational purposes, more school days built into the second and third quarters, and a rearrangement of Christmas and spring holiday breaks. The recommended proposals were chosen on staff votes.

--A demonstration of the new Smart Board technology, funded by grants and used in the kindergarten and advanced math classes, was given by Maggie Jungmann, Hillcrest kindergarten teacher.