LITTLE FALLS -- The Little Falls School Board met Monday to begin to look at how it will reduce its 2004-05 budget.
The board needs to cut $1.4 million from its budget. It has cut about $6.1 million since 2000. Little Falls Superintendent Sharon Thomas said there is no fat left to cut from the budget and this year's cuts will not be easy.
"It will be very time consuming," she said.
The board met for five hours Monday and discussed its financial background as well as the goals set in 2002, such as having an operating fund balance. Currently the district is in statutory operating debt and is expected to be out of debt by June 30.
The district has had continued declining enrollment and receives less per pupil unit funding from the state than 87 percent of the school districts in Minnesota. It also has had four failed referenda since 2000.
The board said salaries and benefits make up 80 percent of the expenditures.
Board member Katie Harms said, "I hope in the end the public will see that we looked through the budget the best we could and that we went through the process and did everything we could."
The public was given an hour to comment.
Jane Haas and Jeff Massmann, with the Little Falls physical education department, supported the physical education program. Massmann said physical education has not been a required course in the state since last year. He said there is no structure or goals in the program.
More meetings coming
LITTLE FALLS -- The Little Falls School Board set up additional meetings Monday to look at 2004-05 budget reductions.
Meetings will be 5:30-9 p.m. in the Sky Lab at Lindbergh Elementary School Feb. 12, Feb. 19, Feb. 26 and March 4.
Meetings previously set for 4-9 p.m. at Lindbergh are Feb. 3, Feb. 9, Feb. 23 and March 8.
However, Massmann said student and staff health is important. He said with the cost of health care on the rise and an increase in diabetes and other chronic diseases, the district needs to look at the physical education for all students.
Massmann said he has heard where schools have given students credit to be in an after school sport. He said this idea has potential, but said it is like giving a student a mathematics credit for running a cash register.
"If you do this then kids will go to what they are good at," he said. "We would not be helping them get better, we'd only see what they are good at."
Haas said, "Where would any of us be without our health. You can have all the degrees in the world and not be healthy."
Haas said according to the American Heart Association, 22 percent of children age six to 18 are overweight. She said the number of students who are overweight has doubled since 1980.
Tom Cotton of Little Falls volunteers with the district's soccer program. Cotton said children live for extra-curricular activities, not English or mathematics. He said the district needs to stress activities students are interested in to keep them in school.
"If there is no incentive for activities they will go out and get in trouble," he said. "It is a challenge to keep them out of trouble."
Cotton also said the program is a small part of the budget. He asked the school board what he could do to help keep the program.
"I am an advocate for all activities," he said.
Diane Karver, Little Falls, spoke as a concerned parent. She supported the drama program, which her daughter is involved in. Karver said if the school board needs to cut something in the drama program, she asked that it cut the one-act play and not the musical.
"The musicals have larger crowds and serve more students," she said.
Jenni Kornbaum, Little Falls, thanked the board for its hard work. She said she hopes the board has all programs and expenses on the table when looking at cuts, including all-day, everyday kindergarten program.
"I think the kindergarten program is great," she said. "But they need home time as well as school time. I hope you wouldn't automatically save it."
After public comment, the school board heard from Linda Schroeder of Schroeder Communications of Delano. Schroeder, who contracts with the school district for communications, discussed program recommendations from the district's Citizens' Advisory Committee. The 16-member committee met for more than 50 hours in 2003 to discuss what it felt was needed in each core program area; made recommendations to each core area if funding was available; and considered other options in the core areas, but did not recommend them to the school board.
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