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School budget met-after $435,000 in cuts

Perham schools have met budget for next year--barely, and with little fanfare or satisfaction.

Making the numbers work for the 2009-2010 school year required another $435,000 in cuts.

With this new round of cuts, the school has reduced its operating expenses by about $1.83 million since 2007. Since 2004, cuts have totalled $2.46 million.

Thanks to $90,000 in new money, courtesy of the federal economic stimulus package, the Perham schools averted the loss of another three teachers.

Most cuts have been "non-classroom," which has been the goal of the school board and administration. But now, the cuts are running deeper, and the equivalent of six full-time teaching positions will be gone next year.

"Without additional money, I don't know what will happen," said Superintendent Tamara Uselman.

The stimulus money will buy time for the next two school years, through the 2010-11 school year.

"But by the third year, with no money coming in, I expect to see a net reduction of 12 teachers," said Uselman.

The federal stimulus money is designated for special education and related instruction. Perham will be using the money to retain its "Reading Recovery" program; as well as math instruction.

Stressing the importance of the reading program, Uselman said it is crucial that young readers--specifically K-2 grade--keep pace with their classmates.

"We have almost no 'reading disabled' students any more," said Uselman, who credited the "Reading Recovery" program. "But it is a labor intensive program. It's one teacher for four kids. Once those four students build their reading skills; the teacher moves on to the next four students."

By the time the busses run for the 2011-12 school year, the financial state of the Perham schools will be anybody's guess.

Next year, the school will be clinging to a meager $100,000 fund balance--which is, in effect, a reserve fund.

"That's about a tenth of what we should have, but we're trying to build the reserves back without massacring the kids," said Uselman.

Auditors generally recommend reserves of about 10 percent of the total budget. With a budget of more than $14 million, the school would ideally have more than $1 million in its fund balance.