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Perham-Dent school board bracing for cuts

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The Perham-Dent school board isn't making any major decisions about budget cuts just yet.

The board decided at its regular meeting Jan. 24, to hold off on setting a budget reduction goal until there's a better idea of what the state Legislature will do.

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Superintendent Tamara Uselman and Business Manager Kristi Werner did ask the board to set a comfortable unreserved fund balance number at the meeting.

The Government Finance Officers Association recommends a balance of no less than two months, or 16.67 percent, of regular general fund operating expenditures. As of June 30, 2010, Perham had a balance of $1.46 million, or 10.88 percent, according to figures passed out at the meeting.

The board decided to set the level at $1.25 million, with $500,000 keeping as a fund balance and $750,000 set aside as a reserve for various maintenance improvements including roofing and repairs to the geothermal heating system at Prairie Wind Middle School. The heating system has been estimated to cost at least $250,000 to repair, but a final number won't be available until an engineering firm formally assesses the situation.

"It's a shot in the dark," Board member Jim Rieber said.

"But it's a good shot," Board member Mike Hamann interjected.

Rieber reiterated the need to keep money reserved for the needed repairs as it is still unknown how much funding the district will lose when the state decides if and how much it will cut in the next legislative session.

"We're looking at at least a half million dollar reduction," Board member Myron Roe said.

While it isn't known what the state will do, the board decided to hold off on setting a budget reduction goal for now. However, Uselman said she has heard that districts in Minnesota should plan for a loss of $500 per student next year. If that is the case, the district will need to cut $883,300, according to figures Werner released at the meeting.

However, districts won't know for sure until May or June, Uselman said. The catch, Uselman said, is reductions in district budgets have to be done in February or March when the budget is put together.

"It has to be done with the very best information you have," Uselman said.

The governor's budget is set to be released on Feb. 15, Uselman said.

"That will give us a hint I think," she said.

Werner also gave an update on enrollment, which drives district funding from the state. Right now, enrollment sits at 1,362 students, not including the Area Learning Center, Werner said. Over all, enrollment is down 10 students from what was projected, Werner said.

The school board will now meet at 5 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month at Perham City Hall. Agendas, minutes and more information are available at www.perham.k12.mn.us.

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