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Duluth school district faces $2.3 million shortfall

The Duluth school district is facing a $2.3 million budget deficit, although that amount could change depending on state aid and teacher contract negotiations.

The School Board will vote next week on a preliminary budget that shows a $1.5 million deficit to the $86.7 million general fund, with $783,000 in new investments, creating the $2.3 million total shortfall.

If lawmakers agree to Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal of a 2 percent school formula increase, the deficit would likely shrink, as district administration was conservative in gauging what it might receive from the state. A 1 percent increase to teacher salaries was built into the deficit, although teachers received 2 percent increases each of the last three years. Negotiations are in process now.

The board will vote on a final budget in June. Planned reductions include $542,000 from educational support and more than $650,000 from administration and its support staff. Another $700,000 in savings is expected to come from new, less-expensive hires replacing retiring staff.

Expected cuts and changes include:

  • The elimination of the innovation (technology) specialist and budget, for $112,000
  • Ending use of the True North Americorps program, to save $70,000. Americorps' math and reading tutors will remain in the district
  • Restructuring the curriculum department to save $250,000
  • More than $235,000 in reductions to the facilities management department, through layoffs and reorganization
  • An $80,000 reduction to the transportation department
  • Clerical reductions within administration to save $120,000
  • Reductions to the salaries of two upper-level administrative employees

Expected investments include:

  • $150,000 for Denfeld High School and Lincoln Park Middle School to address equity issues
  • $100,000 for intervention work that focuses on academics and behavior
  • $60,000 in staff development spending to be divided among schools to use at their discretion
  • Reinstating the climate coordinator position to full time for $48,000
  • Providing lunch to cafeteria monitors for $30,000
  • Spending $25,000 on special education staff development

District officials were light on details, as decisions regarding what positions will be affected in many of the situations haven't been finalized.

Business services manager Doug Hasler wasn't ready to identify the number of possible layoffs district-wide, but he said part of the savings will come from reduced hours.

What the district pays in wages, salaries and benefits is the largest portion of the general fund, he said.

"We are at a place where it's simply not possible to achieve the necessary savings without impacting employees," Hasler said, noting retirements might alleviate some of the layoff pressure.

"In other cases, we've got to find the best possible way of continuing to do critical work with fewer people and the positions involved in that," he said. "It's not easy, and it's not something we want to do, but it's something these numbers are forcing."

The proposed budget doesn't account for $277,000 in cuts yet to be decided. Also unknown is how much of the general fund is needed to pay for renovations to the former Rockridge Elementary School, if the School Board opts to use it for Woodland Hills Academy. Hasler said $750,000 of the tentative $2.5 million price tag is built into the deficit, but it's unknown how much is needed from the general fund and how much from a separate long-term maintenance fund until design work is done this spring.

Board member Harry Welty said the cuts to the curriculum department — rebuilt after years of reductions — are hard to bear.

Those previous reductions are what lead to neglect in aligning various subjects with state standards and getting "called on the carpet" by the state education department, he said.

"It's not good news," for that area to be hit again, he said.

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