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How to cut school budgets? (09/23/2012)
By Sarah Squires
Trimming $500,000 from the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) budget will start with, in government lingo, a process. Earlier this month, the school district Finance Committee, which includes three board members, voted to recommend an approach to those cuts -- including a set of guiding principles and a special committee to identify cuts. The committee also discussed whether any elected board member should be a part of that budget trimming committee.

Several members of the school board asked last week that the full board be part of the discussion about how those budget cuts should be made, rejecting the idea that a budget cutting process should be set by a committee that doesn’t include all elected board members. While it is unclear whether any potential budget reduction committee might include an elected board member, several board members said that figuring out how the process should work must start at the school board with all seven members at the table.

Board member Michelle Langowski, who is one of several members who has been through past budget cutting processes, said the full board needs to be part of the discussion on how to approach financial reductions. "Ultimately, the board has to make that decision," she said. "Does that mean the board goes and digs under all the rocks? No. But you need to know what rocks to dig under. That needs to come from the board."

The topic was added to the agenda as a last-minute item after a request from board member Mohamed Elhindi, who said he had requested that the process for making budget cuts be on the full board agenda for discussion back in July. His request wasn't added to the board agenda; rather, it was taken up by the Finance Committee instead. Elhindi asked Thursday that the board be presented with financial information highlighting spending in key areas, such as administrative costs, instructional costs, activities costs and others, during its next regular meeting. With that information in front of board members, Elhindi said the full board could create its own "core value principles" and strategies for making the tough decisions.

Board member Gary Shurson, who has also been on the board when past budget cuts were made, said each year it gets harder and harder to find easy things to trim. "It's terrible; it's almost an ordeal, because you're messing with people's lives," he said. "You need to think of the students and staff and administration and the taxpayers and everybody else. I don't envy you guys come next year when you have to do this." Shurson's term expires in December; he chose not to run for reelection

"The board is going to have to look at some [areas for cuts] that, quite honestly, we haven't had to look at in the past," continued Shurson. "How many kids are we going to have in a classroom? That's one way of bringing a budget into balance."

The board must not only cut $500,000 for the next school year, but will have to cut approximately the same amount in each of the following two years, according to current financial projections.



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