School board slashes $600K from budget

School board slashes $600K from budget by David Lias The Vermillion School Board publicly revealed its plans Monday for cutting nearly $600,000 from the district's general fund to balance the budget for the next school year.

It was a task the board had hoped to avoid by opting out of the state's property tax freeze in the amount of $600,000 for five years.

Voters in the Vermillion School District rejected the prospect of paying additional real estate taxes in a September election.

"This is something that the school board and the school district has been going through for three years," Vermillion School Board President Tom Craig said. "We're in the fourth year of cuts."

Over the past three years, the board has reduced the general fund budget by $1 million.

"That represents 15 percent of that budget," Craig said. "When the opt-out failed, the board made the decision to go ahead and balance the budget for the school year 2004-2005. To do that, we needed to make an additional $600,000 in cuts."

The school board has been deficit spending to make ends meet, he said. "We've been spending down our fund balance, and at this point, our fund balance is less than $1 million. We don't care to spend it down any more than we have to. It's necessary for our cash flow."

The board has eliminated a dozen staff members and reduced other positions for a $383,000 savings. In addition, the district will charge students for daily busing, which will raise an estimated $15,000. Also, the board will eliminate the $145,000 contingency fund which allows the district to cover unanticipated expenses out of its $6.9 million general fund.

The budget cuts included the following:

High School � $122,607 by not replacing a retiring math teacher, and also eliminating a part-time English position and a full-time computer position.

Elementary schools � $112,000 by reducing second and third grades from five sections to four sections, creating class sizes of about 21 or 22 students, and by eliminating elementary art and a library aide.

District-wide � $72,000 by eliminating a music teacher and a counselor.

Extra-curricular activities � $4,700 by reducing band/vocal travel and eliminating one assistant track coach.

Other � $73,470 by eliminating $8,720 for the extended contracts for librarians and a middle-school counselor; using $10,000 in drug grants to cover part of a salary; charging admissions to concerts which should raise an estimated $2,000; using $19,000 in special education or Title I funds for salaries now covered by the general fund; $9,400 by cutting the school nurse to two-thirds time; $2,350 by eliminating technology coordinators at the building level; charging a fee for daily student bus transportation which should raise an estimated $15,000; and using a $7,000 donation from the Booster Club.

Craig said the cuts and eliminating the contingency fund add up to $543,000.

Further cuts to reach the $600,000 target will depend on what monies the South Dakota Legislature allocate for education in the upcoming session.

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