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School struggles with cuts

September 12, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Fairmont Area school board members continued Tuesday to look for ways to cut $750,000 from the 2013-2014 budget.

The cuts are scheduled to be made Oct. 9, with an understanding that they will be reversed if voters approve a levy increase Nov. 6. If the referendum fails, the cuts would remain in place.

The district is looking to increase its current $500 per pupil unit levy to $950.

For comparison, Granada-Huntley-East Chain residents pay $2,788 per student, Martin County West residents pay $1,540 per pupil, and Truman's excess levy is $1,476 per student.

The school board discussed several options to cut the budget, but was reluctant to identify anything specific with media present - until a more specific list is created.

General discussion revealed board members want to see everything that could be cut on the table, including items previously made public - such as cutting co-curricular activities - and less discussed items, such as all-day kindergarten, the ninth- and 10th-grade computer project, and sections of K-6.

"Everything has to be on the table," said board member Diane Gerhardt.

Each item would have repercussions - such as additional child care costs for parents of kindergarteners in half-day programs, larger class sizes with fewer sections, and shorter school days for students if electives are cut from the high school.

"We are down to the bone," said board member Sandy Beckendorf. "What are we going to cut? No matter what we are going to hurt kids and family."

Brown said the levy increase, if approved, will cost a family in a $77,000 home $87 per year. A $160,000 home would see an increase of $185 per year.

The board reached no consensus on how to cut the budget, and was unable to come up with a "cut list" without more information. It charged the superintendent and other administrators with drafting a prioritized list of all non-required classes and services, along with their cost and student participation.

The district has failed to convince voters in the past that a levy increase is needed, and a similar request for failed last year.

"We took a spanking at the polls last year," Brown said.

Brown said one reason the school needs to continue to trim the budget, or pass the levy hike, is inflation, which costs $350,000 per year.

"Inflation keeps going up 2.5 percent each year, but our levy has been frozen for nine years," he said. "If we pass the $950, we will finally catch up to inflation. We won't be able to add even one teacher."

The list of potential cuts will be complete by Thursday, and will be reviewed by the school board Monday.



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