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For Morris Area school district, deficit budget isn't all bad

The Morris Area school district will operate under a deficit budget next year for the first time in six years, but it's for good reason.

The district School Board approved a 2011-2012 budget with a deficit of an estimated $240,000 at its meeting this week.

But the good news is the additional spending will be targeted, in part, to adding another section of kindergarten and additional science and music staffing in the high school.

The loss of one-time federal stimulus money next year also contributes to the deficit, said Morris Area Superintendent Scott Monson.

"I think everybody understands you can't deficit spend forever, but everything the board approved is going to be good for kids and good for staff," Monson said.

In the event that aid payments cease during a government shutdown, the district has positioned itself, under a couple of cash flow scenarios, so that it will be able to operate for a couple of months before it would have to borrow money, Monson said.

With state funding still in limbo while legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton hash out budget proposals before the July 1 deadline, the district is in good financial shape, he said, thanks to previous measures to tighten the district's belt.

"We're trimmed a lot of things the last few years and people here definitely have made sacrifices," Monson said.

Under the 2011-2012 budget, the district would fund four sections of Kinder-Plus all-day, everyday kindergarten, and one section of alternate-day kindergarten. There also will be four sections of 1st grade, Monson said.

It's an important time for children and it's imperative to keep class sizes smaller, he said.

"A focus on kindergarten and 1st grade is the key to building the skills to help them be successful in later grades," Monson said.

In other district business:

•The board approved 2010-2011 budget revisions to include $150,000 to implement a "technology integration plan" and $16,000 to upgrade the district's bus radio system.

The district will research the best ways to integrate recent technology into educational settings, such as the possible use of iPads, Smart Boards and mobile labs, Monson said.

•Following its regular meeting, the board met in closed session to discuss contract negotiations with district teachers and staff.

Monson said he expects to unions and district to exchange proposals in July or August, and that he's confident new contracts will be agreed to on or before January deadlines for ratifying contracts.