MAPS begins process of identifying $1 million in budget cuts

The Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education and administrative team has begun the process of finding roughly $1 million in budget cuts as it started the process of putting together the budget for the 2011-12 school year. One part of that process got underway Monday when the Fiscal Advisory Council held its first meeting at the MAPS Central Office.
This is the second year that the Board has sought input from as many stakeholders as possible to try and reach a consensus on which cuts to make to bring district expenditures in line with declining state aid due to declining enrollment while at the same time minimizing the impact that students will feel as a result of the reductions.
The Fiscal Advisory Council was created last year by Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder as a way to gain input from the general public and many of the recommendations for cuts it made to the board eventually were adopted. Several more suggestions will depend on how negotiations with the three district unions go this spring on concessions to contracts.
In addition to the FAC, the board also received input from all MAPS staff, to include administrators, teachers, custodians and secretaries.
Snyder told the members of the FAC Monday that this process will be used again this year. The big change, however, is that the membership in the FAC was limited to community members, with just three members of the School Board serving as observers and adding clarifying information when needed. Last year board members, administrators and teachers took part in the FAC, which some members said Monday inhibited some of their contributions because they saw some of the employees had a vested interest in outcome of the process.
The group is also much smaller this year, numbering around 30 members. But it includes a broad cross section of occupations, education levels and includes representatives from many of the townships that send children to MAPS schools.
“One of the goals of the group was to have a more diverse membership. So it sounds like we are on the right track for that,” Snyder said after everyone introduced themselves.
While some familiar faces return to the group from last year, many new faces were also in attendance. All expressed a desire to help the district find solutions to the financial problems the district is facing while at the same time learn what is really going on in MAPS finances.
The FAC spent the first two hour meeting going through the ground work of establishing its goals and mission as well as getting a crash course in school finance from Director of Finance Louise Fischer. Fischer walked the group through the DPI paperwork that shows how the district arrives at its mill rate as well as learning how much state aid it will receive based on enrollment. Any questions she could not answer immediately would be emailed to the entire group before the next meeting. Snyder said this process, which was also used last year, is an attempt to increase the transparency of the district finances and establish an open, honest dialogue with area residents.
“We are not trying to hide anything,” Snyder said.
Fischer also handed out a list of cuts made since the 2000-01 school year. Since then, MAPS has had to par its budget by a total of nearly $8 million.
Snyder and Board President Jeff Verdoorn both assured the group that while all of their suggestions may not be adopted by the board, or even forwarded on, all suggestions with merit will be examined. While the current union contracts are settled through June 2011, and so pay and fringe benefits are set in stone, the FAC can look at such things as staffing levels in determining its recommendations.
“I want you to look at everything,” Verdoorn said.
Compounding the budget process this year is the state will have to come up with a new biannual budget by the end of June. Fischer told the group that while last year the FAC knew how much state aid the district would receive, they don’t this year. She said the only thing they can assume is that state aid will most likely not increase next year. In all likelihood, it will decrease.
The FAC will meet biweekly on Mondays through November 15.

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