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School district posturing for cuts

The Perham School Board is preparing to trim as much as $500,000 from the district's budget next year in order to keep a healthy fund balance in place.

That amount is part of a "worst case scenario" of the district's budget, which doesn't factor in some likely increases in state aid.

School board members voted last week to put administration on the path to a more balanced budget; as in years' past, this includes looking into any new ways to curb spending and raise revenues.

If more aid comes in, and/or if the board chooses to spend down more of the district's fund balance, less than the $500,000 may be considered.

The board's action last week is only the first of many steps to come in the budgeting process. No specific cuts or revenue increases have been proposed yet. These will be discussed at future school board meetings.

A working draft of the district's preliminary 2013-2014 budget projects a potential to deficit spend about $800,000, according to Business Manager Kristi Werner.

However, she added in an email to the Focus, "At this point in the year we really have a difficult time projecting what the legislature may do in terms of school funding for next year. While the atmosphere in the Capital makes us optimistic that schools may receive an increase in funding over the budget biennium, we chose not to include any increased revenue from the state of Minnesota. We are looking at this preliminary budget projection as a 'worst case scenario.'"

The district's fund balance is expected to be at about $1.5 million at the end of this school year.

Under the current projected budget for next year, this fund balance would be drawn down by $800,000 if no new cuts or revenue enhancements are made. This would bring the total balance in that fund below $1 million - an amount some school board members appeared uncomfortable with during discussion last week.

By trimming $500,000 off that, just the remaining $300,000 would come out of the fund, leaving a balance of more than $1 million.

It'll be up to the school board to establish a minimum desired amount for that fund, and then maintain it at or above that level, stated board member Jim Rieber: "We have to decide how much we need to have in that reserve to carry us through."

Superintendent Mitch Anderson said, "There's so much to be decided, but we'd like to start (the budgeting process) early so we can develop a list of cost containments," as some changes could affect school staff and programs.

After administrators come up with a list of $500,000 in potential budget reductions and revenue generators, the school board will then review that list and make a decision about what actions to actually take. They could decide at that time to make a lesser amount of cuts, or to make no cuts at all.

In other news, the school board:

-Is getting involved in a new district-wide digital curriculum committee. Jim Rieber said he would be interested in joining the committee, and other board members would be welcome to join, as well. The committee will also consist of administration, teachers and other staff members.

-Agreed to give teachers a couple of extra staff development days next year to give them time for training, mostly related to new technology. The extra days were first added into the calendar last year after the introduction of the district's new iPads; a vote by the board last week essentially continues the current staff development plan through another year. There will be 171 student-to-teacher days next year. A final calendar has not been created.