Time For Chopping Block?

Time For Chopping Block? Budget Cuts By David Lias The Vermillion School Board may be forced to bring out the chopping block again.

The board will consider recommendations on the specifics of the general fund budget cutting plan at its regular meeting Monday night.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Al Neuharth Media Center on the USD campus, and is open to the public.

The recommendations that will come before the board are the product of several weeks of work by several committees made up of citizens, educators, school administrators and board members.

The committee structure was implemented by the board several months ago to find areas to cut when it was projected that the school district's general fund would be inadequate to meet next year's revenue needs.

Committees have identified $350,000 of cuts from the upcoming 2005-2006 budget.

The school board has stated that these cuts will not be implemented if the opt-out election passes.

Board members unanimously agreed last month to opt-out of the state property tax freeze by $800,000 annually for five years.

This action was spurred by the Vermillion PTA, which had gathered approximately 1,000 pledges from district patrons who support the opt-out.

Residents of the school district will have the final say. Rather than letting citizens circulate petitions to refer the opt-out decision, board members voted to put the issue to a public vote March 15.

If approved, the opt-out would begin with 2005 taxes payable in 2006. It would conclude with 2010 taxes payable in 2011.

The board is not banking on the opt-out, however, as it plans its budget for 2006. That has made the cuts necessary.

Five committees studied the general fund budget and made recommendations to the board to reach the $350,000 goal.

The committees completed their work in about two months of study.

The board is also working to identify an additional $100,000 in general fund budget cuts that will be implemented regardless of the result of the opt-out election.

The board got a first look at the committee recommended cuts at its last regular meeting.

They then referred the plan to the administration and to the Vermillion Education Association (VEA) for a review.

The administration completed some fine-tuning of the reduction plan and the VEA has had an opportunity to respond according to the district's negotiated agreement.

The process of cutting budget and reducing staff and programs is not new to the Vermillion School District.

The table at right is a listing of budget cuts that have been implemented by the school district since 2001 through the current school year.

It appears that there will be no significant pieces of legislation passed in Pierre this year that would help the Vermillion School District's budget situation.

Gov. Mike Rounds' funding proposal for the 2005-2006 school year provides for a 1.08 percent increase over the per student funding of $4,160.31 that schools received this year. He is recommending a $44.95 per student increase for a total of $4,205.26.

His state aid funding proposal asks the state to spend $412,000 of new money for K-12 education. State government's annual average budget increase for the past eight years is approximately 5.4 percent. The average annual increase for schools has been approximately 2.5 percent.

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