MAPS Board gives Maple Grove charter school a chance; Pine River still to close

After hearing concerns from the public during a special meeting Thursday night, the Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education passed a tentative 2012-2013 budget that keeps the Maple Grove Charter School efforts alive.
Coming into the special meeting, district administration was recommending an elementary school reorganization plan that included closing Maple Grove and Pine River schools, and moving all fifth graders to the middle school. The board voted to continue the process of creating a charter school at Maple Grove in cooperation with the Marathon School District. Grant funds to get the charter school rolling are expected to be received shortly. The board also voted to keep all fifth graders in the elementary schools. Pine River Elementary School would still close under the tentative budget, and the building would be repurposed to house the district’s Head Start-Early Childhood-4K program.
The board also voted to retain the boys hockey program, which was to be discontinued under the administration’s recommendations.
To offset expenses put back into the budget, the board opted to not give district employees a raise for 2012-2013. The administration’s recommended budget included a 1.3 % raise; freezing salaries at the current level freed up $236,000.
The district has to cut nearly $1.5 million for the 2012-2013 school year.
The biggest cost-savings proposed for next year’s budget is a change to employee health insurance. The district is expecting to save roughly $600,000 by upping the deductible on the Health Reimbursement Account plan from $2,000/$4,000 to $5,000/$10,000. Other items to be cut include a high school science teaching position and professional development expenses for staff.
MAPS has been dealing with a structural deficit since 2002. The district has made annual budget cuts, with nearly $3 million cut last year. The biggest factor driving the deficit is declining enrollment; fewer students means less money from the state. Coupled with that, state-imposed revenue caps limit the amount of money school districts can seek from the local taxpayers to make up the loss of state revenue.

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