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Nevis board reviews possible budget trimming measures

Nevis superintendent Steve Rassier issued cautionary warnings about the school budget this week, noting uncertainties over state or federal stimulus funding "make it impossible to present a revenue projection."

Preliminary revenue projections were completed based in no change in state funding for 2009-10, but final state school funding numbers may not be known until mid-summer, he told the board.

"While we know that we will receive federal stimulus money, we do not know how (or if) the state is going to offset some or all of this money," he wrote in a memo to board members.

"We are also being warned that the outlook for the next four years is grim, with a need to maintain existing reserves that will be needed over the next several years," he told the board.

While Gov. Pawlenty continues to support additional funding for schools, he said schools are receiving "bad news from state DFL Senate leaders" who have proposed a 7 percent cut in funding for public schools, K-12.

Sen. Lawrence Pogemiller, DFL, Minneapolis, issued a "fiscal warning," stating, "Any school board member who isn't ready for any significant cuts is just being foolish," Rassier reminded the Nevis board.

Rassier presented a list of "potential budget reductions or revenue enhancements," stating they were not "final recommendations but concepts that will need formal action at a later date."

The list includes a salary freeze for staff and incentives for early retirement. Teachers with less experience could be hired at lower salaries. Proposed staff reductions include trimming the maintenance person position to half and eliminating the school law enforcement liaison.

Nevis deputy Jeff Stacey has a strong presence in the school, Rassier said.

Eliminating extra-curricular speech and cheerleading, travel for cooperative sports activities and non-high school league competitions are under consideration.

The board is also considered implementing a student participation fee for school activities. Nevis and Cass Lake are the only schools in the area that do not impose a fee.

Park Rapids middle school students currently pay $50 per activity, which may increase to $75 next year. High school students pay $125, with a proposal to bump that up to $150 per activity next year. The school has a family cap $450.

Waiving staff development is also under consideration. Minnesota law requires a school district reserve 2 percent of basic revenue for staff development activities, including conferences, cost of substitute teachers, in-service education and other costs.

The statute allows districts to annually waive the requirement as a cost saving measure if the majority of the teachers agree.

The required "set aside" amount for the 2009-10 school year is nearly $66,000.