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Board OKs cuts, district will trim 144 jobs

The District 196 School Board eliminated the equivalent of nearly 144 full-time positions -- including 78 classroom teaching positions -- as part of a $15.3 million budget adjustment approved Monday.

The board made the decision, which also includes higher fees for sports and fine-arts activities and the elimination of the D.A.R.E. program, in anticipation of a 5 percent cut in state funding for education. Even if those cuts do not come, though, the district is not likely to restore any of the cuts approved Monday. Finance director Jeff Solomon said this week that with the state facing significant budget deficits cuts to education funding appear inevitable.

Monday's vote came after several months of discussion with district employees, parents and others in the community to fine-tune a list of recommended cuts first presented in January. Board member Joel Albright said Monday the process was "the most difficult thing I've done on the board. It's exhausting."

Albright said the process has been especially difficult because of what lies ahead.

"We see what's coming next year," he said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

In this case, the rest of that iceberg includes an estimated $31.5 million in budget adjustments for the district's next budget.

Solomon said a budget steering committee has already identified likely cuts for the future but those cuts have not yet been made public or presented to the board.

The district made some changes to its budget adjustments between the time it announced them in January and Monday's vote. The district will raise fees for athletic and co-curricular activities rather than cut those budgets and the district eliminated proposed cuts to school counselors because of a state law that requires school districts to maintain spending in that area.

For now, the focus is on the future and what it will mean for students when classes get bigger and schools lose clerical positions. At $7.65 million, staffing reductions make up roughly half of the district's overall budget adjustments. The district will cut the equivalent of 3.24 full-time special education teachers, 7.8 elementary specialists -- art, music and physical education teachers -- and two technology support workers.

Rosemount Elementary School principal Tom Idstrom said the entire school is tightening its belt when it comes to purchasing and trying to figure out what adjustments it will have to make to get things done.

"We're going to lose some staff members," Idstrom said. "They're great teachers and they've been good young leaders for us in our building and it's unfortunate that we're going to lose them."

District officials have talked during this budget adjustment process about the possibility of asking voters to approve an operating levy. The last levy voters approved was in 2005 and Solomon said the district can still ask voters to approve $500 per student before it hits state's limit on local levy authority. A $500 per student levy would bring in about $16 million in new revenue per year.