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Vote on school cuts expected Monday

The Morris Area school board is expected to vote on making more than $637,000 worth of staff reductions and other cost containment measures on Monday.

The board meets at 7 p.m. in the Morris Area High School Media Center.

The budget moves were necessitated by aprojected $621,000 shortfall for the 2005-2006 school year. Morris Area Schools Superintendent Scott Monson added an ominous note, stating that the district could be facing another shortfall of about $500,000 in its 2006-2007 budget.

The board will consider resolutions on Monday to terminate or place on unrequested leave 14 teachers and staff members.

The school board met for three hours on Tuesday to hash over details of the reduction plan.<

"We may not be done yet," Morris Area school board chair Kurt Gartland said Thursday. "I hope we are. The way it is now, it looks like we'll be stable for next year."

The district's undesignated general fund is expected be running a negative balance by the end of this school year,and a resolution could be brought before the board in June to authorize short-term borrowing to stabilize cash flow for the 2005-2006 school year,Gartland said.

The amount of the fund's deficit, and the amount the district would seek to borrow in the short term have not been determined, he said. And reductions beyond $621,000 could be in the offing depending on what the Minnesota Legislature concludes on state funding, and whether portions of the proposed district reductions are enacted. For example, one plan circulating in the Legislature calls for a 2 percent hike in the basic funding formula, whereas another bill would keep the funding formula at current levels. It's not likely school districts will know what lawmakers choose to do until they adjourn later this spring.

Also, the district proposal has a $60,000 cost savings that would come from asking the district staff to vote to reduce its development budget. Should a vote fail, that money would have to be carved out of the budget some other way, Gartland said. The district's budget must be finalized by July 1.

The Morris Area Citizens for Quality Schools is pushing hard for the board to ask for a levy referendum, and while the board didn't tackle that issue during a three-hour meeting Tuesday,Gartland said it would be discussed at Monday's meeting.

The board had to make cuts whether a levy request would be approved or not, given the timing. A referendum most likely could not be called before November, and even if approved, funds from a levy would not be available until July 2006, Gartland said. As such, the budget cutting process continued

"We accomplished what we needed to, not what we wanted to," Gartland said. "The board wanted to reach a consensus on reductions this spring to notify as soon as possible teachers and staff who would be losing jobs or having their positions reduced this fall," he said.

Teachers, staff and programs on the district's cutting board could be reinstated depending on the Minnesota Legislature's current deliberations on school funding and the pending status of other potential revenue sources.

Under the current reductions proposed, the Morris Area High School would take the brunt of the cuts, with more than half the reductions coming from secondary programs.

Grades 8 through 12 all will be reduced by one section, resulting in cost reductions of $222,000. In all, $333,250 of the total would be in secondary programs.

District-wide cuts would total $111,300,with the bulk coming from the staff vote to reduce staff the development budgets. Another $25,000 is figured in from an estimated one-half percent increase in the state's basic funding formula.

Buildings and grounds would be reduced $53,300, the elementary budget would be cut $57,350, extra and co-curricular would be reduced $38,920,and transportation would be reduced $43,400.

On Tuesday, the board seemed in agreement on the majority of proposed reductions, but members did stake out portions for either saving or further cuts.

Board member Amy Doll-Wohlers proposed cutting more from music and the custodial budget if it would help restore a class section.

"I'm looking at the core," Doll-Wohlers said. "... I know music and drama are very, very important. Are they the most important? No."

Doll-Wohlers cast the lone vote among the seven board member to accept the list detailing $637,000 in reductions. She estimated that a significant portion of the proposed reductions comes from "soft" sources, such as ticket price and fee increases -- money that is not guaranteed.

Board member Vance Gullickson agreed with Doll-Wohlers on those points, and added that the reductions possibly would have to be more sweeping than even those being proposed, given a potential $500,000 shortfall in 2006-2007.

"I hate to be too close to the vest on some of these things,looking into the future," Gullickson said. "We have to look past the end of our hand."

Board member Mark McNally also was concerned about making too many cuts in vocational education programs, despite some classes having enrollment below 10 students.

"Not all high school students are bound for higher education," he said, And secondary school should remain a solid training ground for those who intend to enter the work force after graduation, McNally said.