191 won’t shorten school calendar
Closing a school may be future cost-saver
The District 191 School Board has dropped administration proposals to cut 17 school days from next year’s calendar and to increase the maximum elementary walking distance from one mile to 1.5.
The shorter calendar would have saved $776,000. The longer walking distance would have saved $250,000. Faced with stagnant state funding, declining enrollment and yearly cost increases, the district is seeking to cut $15 million over the next three budgets.
The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage board agreed at a May 3 workshop to drop the proposals from 2012-13 budget deliberations. Board members also agreed to spend about $1 million of budget reserves to “buy back” some other proposed cuts aside from the savings the shorter calendar would have produced.
Altogether, cuts for 2012-13 will total about $5 million based on the board’s direction, according to Lisa Rider, executive director of business services.
Administrators are preparing a modified budget-cutting plan for a May 17 board vote.
The shortened school year has been the most controversial of the money-saving proposals.
“Loud and clear was to drop the modified calendar,” Board Member Sandy Sweep said of the message she heard at three budget forums the district held in recent weeks.
The shorter calendar, which would have added 36 minutes to the school day, was “universally lambasted” at the three forums, Board Member Dan Luth said.
The “concept is not going to fly,” Board Chair Ron Hill said.
Board members didn’t rule out revisiting it for the following year. But in the district’s search for permanent, structural cuts to ease the burden on a budget that officials say could be strained for years to come, closing a school building may be more palpable.
“I heard, surprisingly, some willingness to close a building,” Board Member DeeDee Currier said.
Some at the forums favored closing a building and making the necessary attendance-boundary changes, which they said would also correct enrollment imbalances between schools, Sweep said.
Pro-school closing comments were generally expressed as a preference to shortening the school calendar, Luth said.
It’s too late to close a building next year, but the needed planning could be done for 2013-14, officials said.
Areas that could benefit from the $1 million “buy-back” include junior and senior high staffing. Administrators had proposed cutting three full-time positions from each.
The buy-back may also forestall cuts in senior high athletics and cocurricular stipends.
Some unexpected savings that have come the district’s way recently bolstered the board’s resolve to forego the savings of the shorter calendar and shave about $1 million from fund reserves.
The district’s renewed health-insurance plan with Medica for next school year has a higher deductible and no cost increase to the district, saving about $900,000 from budget estimates.
A bus contract with a new provider, Durham School Services, is expected to save about $400,000.
Also, the district has learned it will receive about $500,000 in state “literacy funds” next year, officials said.