Stillwater schools to get jump on cuts

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2011 - 4:58 PM

Facing $10 million in cuts after three of the district's levy requests failed, the school board will vote on a revised second-semester budget.

The Stillwater Area School Board could decide as soon as this week whether to save more than $2 million this semester by reducing school budgets by 10 percent and implementing a hiring freeze.

In addition, athletic fees would increase to raise more money.

Administrators made the proposal to board members at their December meeting. The board is expected to vote on the cuts at this week's meeting and the cuts could take effect as soon as Jan. 24.

The move comes just a month before a committee of district residents and administrators will propose how to cut $10 million from the 2011-2012 school year budget.

Even without that long-term proposal, this month's round of budget cuts would save the district more money in the long run, said Superintendent Corey Lunn.

"This is an important opportunity to consider because any money that can be saved yet this year may actually save us two-fold if also included on the budget adjustment list for next year," Lunn said. "That is significant as we work toward cutting our expenses by more than 10 percent by next fall."

The district faces a $10 million budget shortfall after three levy proposals failed in November. Voters had been asked to replace an existing $997 per student operating levy with one that would have provided $1,465 per student each year for seven years. They also rejected an $18.1 million bond that would be used to upgrade several science and math labs at Stillwater Area High School and a $982,300-a-year technology levy for seven years.

During December's board meeting, Ray Queener, the district's assistant superintendent, proposed 28 district-wide cuts that would result in $2,089,100 in savings. Those cuts include a hiring freeze that would save the district $159,000 and reducing building and department budgets by 10 percent to save $575,000.

Proposed fee increases on more expensive sports, meanwhile, could save the district $27,000.

Currently, students are charged a flat fee of $150 to participate in a district sport. But athletic fees for several sports could cost from $15 to $50 more. The fee hike will occur based on a sport's operating expense to the district. More expensive sports, such as football and baseball, will receive higher athletic fees.

Several of the cuts involve the district pulling money from one fund to pay for items in another fund, a provision allowed by new state laws. For example, the administration is proposing that the district could save $20,000 by transferring money made from renting their fields into its general fund.

"Our goal throughout the budget adjustment process has been, and will continue to be, to protect the classroom and support our students the best that we can," Lunn said. "We feel this list does just that by focusing on streamlining the support systems in place for our schools. That said, the budget reduction process will become even more challenging in the coming days as we work toward cutting $10 million. People within our organization, as well as programs for our students, will be affected as we dig deeper to make up the gap for the coming school year."

This week's board meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Stillwater Public Library, 224 N. Third St. in Stillwater.

To view the entire list of budget cut proposals, visit www.startribune.com/a914.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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