Millions cut from Washington County schools

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2011 - 8:03 PM

With both declining enrollments and state cuts reducing aid, districts are scrambling to close deficits for next school year.

Several Washington County school districts are planning to trim dozens of programs and lay off staff members this summer to close multi-million-dollar deficits.

The state, facing its own $5 billion deficit, has steadily decreased funding for schools over the past five years. Those cuts, coupled with flattening student enrollment and increases in other costs, leave administrators to grapple with tighter budgets every year.

"It's difficult because it's a real innovation killer," said Forest Lake school board Chair Rod Rapheal. "When you're looking at a school, you want to figure out the best way you can help kids who are falling behind. But when you're always in this bind of cutting, any programs that you're trying to put in place are usually the first to go."

"Everybody has to do more with less," said Mahtomedi Superintendent Mark Larson. "That's just the way things are. I'm constantly having to deal with crises du jour-type things. The state has to come through with a more predictable, understandable funding. We have to get off this rollercoaster."

Here's a rundown of cuts at the district level:

South Washington schools

South Washington schools last month made $5 million in cuts to next year's school budget.

The administration decided not to contribute to its internal service fund -- money set aside to cover post-retirement benefit obligations. That will save the district $2.5 million.

Other cuts included a retirement incentive that resulted in $855,000 in savings; elimination of the $18,000 DARE drug prevention program, and reducing the district's discretionary budget by $202,000.

Forest Lake schools

The Forest Lake School District faced a $4 million budget deficit, which administrators attributed to a loss of 100 students and the drying up of federal stimulus dollars. The district offered 28 teachers $20,000 retirement incentive packages, which will save $280,000 overall. The district also plans to allow advertisements in its schools next year, which should bring in $240,000.

The district froze administrative salaries for two years, eliminated one administrative position and laid off 14 teachers. That saved $698,000.

The district plans to close another $2 million of the budget gap by holding over until next school year $1.2 million of EduJobs money it received in January from the federal government and $750,000 it hopes to receive from the state for maintaining its student population.

Mahtomedi

Mahtomedi had to cut a little more than $500,000 from its budget, said Larson, the superintendent.

Larson said the cuts weren't as drastic as those in other districts because of major cuts last year, including a $500,000 reduction in health care premiums negotiated with union representatives.

Last month, administrators decided, among other trims, to cut professional development for school board members, to increase athletic fees by $30 and to lay off a librarian.

North St. Paul, Maplewood, Oakdale

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District approved a series of controversial budget cuts last month to help cover a $6.9 million deficit for the 2011-12 school year.

The cuts included layoffs of about a dozen district employees. The district also will save money by replacing retiring teachers with younger, less-costly staff, and by reducing the amount of staff development it offers.

The district avoided more drastic measures, such as laying off teachers or freezing their salaries and eliminating all-day kindergarten.

The approved cuts will save about $4 million. The district will use part of its fund balance, or savings, to cover the remaining $2.9 million.

White Bear Lake

White Bear Lake Area Schools had an increase in enrollment this year, saving them from having to make any cuts that needed to approved by the school board. Spokeswoman Marisa Vette said the administration has trimmed around $750,000 in costs throughout the school year by restructuring staff.

Stillwater

The Stillwater school board won't make any budget reductions this year, said spokeswoman Carissa Keister.

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695

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