MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Some education officials say they foresee drastic cuts in many Minnesota school districts when the budget-cutting process moves into high gear next month.
The Osseo School District in suburban Minneapolis has already voted for a four-day school week and the elimination of elementary school recess. That decision was part of a plan to cut $9 million from next year's budget.
While that's just one case, Bob Meeks of the Minnesota School Boards Association predicts that some schools in the state will close.
In the suburban Spring Lake Park district, superintendent Don Helmstetter said all ideas are on the table as the school looks to cut $2.5 million -- including a shorter week or elementary school closings.
"I think the board is willing to consider everything right now. We're pretty stressed," he said.
At least two suburban districts -- Anoka-Hennepin and North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale -- have talked about shutting down schools.
Also, in Anoka-Hennepin, the school board has broached delaying the opening of a new high school, needed to relieve overcrowding, from next year to the 2003-04 school year. The district also will explore a proposal to make extracurricular activities self-supporting.
The budget cuts also come just as the state has announced it was facing a $1.95 billion deficit.
Further complicating the picture are continuing negotiations between many districts and their teachers. If settlements go beyond what's projected for district budgets, then they amount to additional financial burdens.
Some educators say all these factors could presage the worst financial year schools have had since budget deficits in the early 1980s triggered massive education cuts.
"This is the worst-case scenario," Meeks said.
Before the state's bleak deficit projection, schools were holding out hope they could somehow squeeze some extra revenues out of next year's legislative session, which begins in January. Now they're just hoping they can dodge the budget-cutting bullet and hang on to what they have.
This year's property-tax reform could make that more difficult because the state has taken over much of the portion of school funding that used to be paid by property taxes.
Since it's now a state expense, it becomes a possible target for budget cuts. Teachers negotiating new contracts might not be willing to bear the burden of their schools' financial woes.
"It's not fair for teachers to have to balance the budgets of the districts, or the state's either," said Judy Schaubach, president of Education Minnesota, the state teachers union.
The law allows districts to go to their voters once a year for more money, meaning that last month's election losers could go back to the voters next November. Districts could also opt for a mail-in ballot at some other time of year, most likely in the spring.
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