Faced with budget problems, the Stillwater Area School District is looking into turning over operation of its alternative learning center to Northeast Intermediate School District, which runs similar programs in three metro counties.

The Stillwater school board on March 24 considered, but did not act on, a proposal that called for handing over the keys to the St. Croix Valley Area Learning Center to District 916, a consortium of 11 school districts in the northeast suburbs, said District 834 spokeswoman Carissa Keister. The Stillwater school district will continue to explore solutions as it works to cut $250,000 from the alternative learning center's budget, Keister said.

An agreement is expected by month's end, officials said.

Ryan Laager, executive director of curriculum and secondary education for District 834, said officials are "looking for greater efficiencies" in running the alternative learning program. Laager noted that a District 916 takeover wouldn't necessarily mean laying off staff members or relocating the center for "at-risk students" from its current home, across the street from Stillwater Area High School.

Stillwater officials said the proposed plan, whose details are still being determined, is just one of several difficult decisions the district is considering this year to close a roughly $4 million budget gap, brought on by dwindling enrollment.

District 916 balked at an earlier proposal floated by Stillwater school officials, which called for the intermediate district to run "the program in its entirety," said district Superintendent Connie Hayes.

"Our suggestion would be to provide a one- to two-year leadership role in their program, make some adjustments in the staffing model, and develop a model that would generate more revenue for the ALC program," Hayes wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "This model has proved successful in the ALC programs that we run and operate, both financially and for student success."

District spokeswoman Karin Gjengdahl said officials from both sides would continue working out the fine points of the plan, which would take effect in the 2014-15 school year.

The intermediate district currently operates three alternative learning programs: East View Academy in Little Canada, 916 Mahtomedi Academy in White Bear Lake and Metro Heights Academy in Fridley.