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No room for dessert? After lunch sweets may be cut from school lunch, saving $8,000

Kids with sweet tooths will be deprived of their dessert in the Perham-Dent school cafeteria, under one of numerous budget-cutting measures proposed by the school board.

Nearly $300,000 in additional cuts in school expenses will be made--with only a half-year remaining.

And that's only the beginning.

Almost immediately after the current year's cuts are approved, the board will start looking for another $500,000 in reductions in order to balance the books for the next school year, 2009-10.

By eliminating desserts in the cafeteria, the food service operation will save $8,000 this year. Three kitchen staff, one at each building, would also be cut. A cook in the high school would be cut, with the head cooks reassigned as a replacement. Food service clerical duties would be reassigned as well.

These, and other cuts and shifts, would eliminate a projected $23,000 deficit in the food service operation by the end of this year--but would accomplish little in reaching the nearly $300,000 necessary.

Closing of school facilities?

Relocating the Family Resource Center from the present fairgrounds building to the Perham elementary school was discussed as another cut--which could save $15,000 to $20,000. Heat, lighting, a 20-hour-per-week cleaner, and snow removal would be among the savings.

Consolidating the Alternative Learning Center into the high school was estimated to save about $5,000, mostly through cleaning and utilities.

Closing the Dent elementary school this winter, as opposed to after the school year, was even discussed. But it hit resistance because the board and administration essentially promised the community it would remain open through the 2008-09 school year. (See related story.)

There was some short-term good news: The school could save $35,000 between now and the end of the year in fuel costs--as long as gas stays below $3 a gallon.

As the board members prepare for cuts now, and in the next four years, they will be budgeting based on no increases in state funding, in order to set a conservative course.

Another assumption the board and administration will follow is that the loss of 25 students, in effect, means the loss of one teacher. An average teacher's salary, with benefits, is approximately $60,000.

Eliminating teachers from the classroom has been avoided as long as possible, as the board and administration have an unwritten policy of preventing budget cuts from directly impacting the students.

"We have to be aware that this (cutting teachers) is a major shift in philosophy that we've put into place in the past," said Jim Rieber, board member.

An inflation rate of nearly 3 percent will also be figured for projections.

Four-day school week once again up for discussion

The concept of a four-day school week, to save operating costs, was once again discussed by the board.

Based on the course of the discussion, it appears doubtful the idea will be seriously considered.

One of the problems with the four-day week, Tuesday through Friday, is that the school district essentially shifts the cost back to the families--in the form of daycare for the fifth day.

Based on some very rough math, Superintendent Tamara Uselman calculated that it could be as high as $500,000 in daycare expenses the families would need to pick up.

Uselman further questioned the rationale of reducing the school week--at the same time as Asian schools are going to six-day weeks. A shorter week would put American students at a competitive disadvantage with those from many foreign countries.

"I don't think the four-day week is a long-term solution for our country," said Uselman.

When school is not in session, it also creates less traffic in town--with the side effect of less retail spending, noted board member Dave Schornack.

"You can really tell downtown when school isn't in session...the retailers really feel it," he added.

Cuts hurt students--not teachers

As the budget-cutting discussion concluded, comments from the audience were invited.

Choir director Kevin Kosiak stressed that, if the school board cuts programs and teachers, it will be the students who are hurt.

Teachers are generally employable, said Kosiak. "If programs are sliced and diced, it isn't the teachers who are hurt--you are punishing the students."