BoE closes budget shortfall from canceled fee

By Jamie Taylor

In the second regular meeting for September Monday evening, the Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education was able to close a $60,000 shortfall in the budget for the 2010-11 school year caused by the cancelation of the technology fee it had planned to implement this year.

The board was able to close the gap using $55,379 of the $537,557 it had received in the recently passed Federal Jobs money it had received to be used in the 2010-11 and/or 2011-12 school years for keeping staff in place. In doing so, it identified a Central Office Secretary and two custodians to be saved using the money this year and accepting the resignation of a high school secretary effective Jan. 3, 2011. Of the four positions, only the high school secretary position will be totally eliminated.

The balance of the money from the federal government will be used to stave off staff cuts in the 2011-12 school year.

The federal funds could only be used to save positions already targeted for elimination. With the technology fee being eliminated, the administration and board had to go back to the recommended cuts identified by the Fiscal Advisory Council and other groups. Once the positions were identified, the cost of those salaries and benefits could be covered by the federal money.

However, once the federal money runs out at the end of the 2011-12 school year, the positions would be eliminated in the budget cuts for 2012-13.

Loretta Baughan felt the cuts could come from other places in the 2010-11 budget to spare staff the uncertainty of having a job in one or two years. She said there were other areas in the budget that could be further reduced.

“It’s premature, in my opinion, to earmark $60,000 for this purpose,” Baughan said.

MAPS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder said since the school year had already started, referring back to the recommended staff cuts was the easiest way to reduce the budget in light of the jobs money allowing the cuts to be postponed. Any other reductions were either not possible due to union contracts or would directly affect students.

“It’s been a very difficult couple of weeks coming up with $60,000 to make up for the shortfalls,” she said.

Board President Jeff Verdoorn liked the solution because the cuts were at the top of the list of recommendations not utilized to reduce the budget this year.

“We have to find a way to do things differently, more efficiently going forward because we are going to have to make reductions in manpower eventually,” Verdoorn said.

This solution gives the administration time to have those people who will eventually be assuming the duties of the positions eliminated to be adequately trained to do the new tasks.

In all, the MAPS administrative team estimates that over $900,000 will need to be cut from the 2011-12 budget to make up for decreased state aid due to declining enrollment. This doesn’t include the nearly $500,000 in staffing positions the jobs money will cover for that one year.

The proposal passed by a pair of 6-1 votes with Baughan casting the lone nay votes.

The board also approved a charter that will govern how the Human Growth and Development committee works to bring the MAPS health curriculum in line with the new state requirements it approved two weeks ago. Verdoorn emphasized that because of the controversial nature of the subject and the misconceptions among the public on the subject, it would be very easy for the committee to be pulled off track otherwise.

The Committee has until late November to present a updated curriculum to the board for approval so parents will have 45-days to review it before it is taught.

Under the approved charter, the committee meetings will be open to the public, but public comment will not be taken at them. This is so that not just the three board members on the committee, can receive the comments.

“I want the board as a whole to hear these comments. We’re the ones that have to approve this in November,” Verdoorn said.

The charter passed by a 7-0.

The committee will meet weekly on Wednesday at 6 p.m. until it makes its recommendation to the board on the curriculum changes.

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