Dist. 11 plans deep cuts to balance budget

To ax nearly $7.5 million from its 2014-2015 budget, Anoka-Hennepin District 11 needs to make deep cuts this year.

Chief Financial Officer Michelle Vargas presented proposed cuts to the school board Jan. 13. The board is scheduled to approve them at its next meeting, Jan. 27.

Annual salary increases and inflated insurance costs – a 17 percent increase in health insurance premiums in 2014 – among other expenses are not met with enough new revenue.

The deficit for fiscal year 2015 is projected to be $2.5 million with an additional $5 million carried over from 2014. Last year, the district hesitated to make cuts with many unknowns as the Legislature hashed out new budget formulas, Vargas said.

“We plan based on what we know,” she said. “We budget very conservatively.”

In the second year of the biennium, knowing it must make significant cuts, staff has been working for six months to make the process as painless as possible.

Staff used a zero-based budgeting model, adding essential expenditures to come up with recommendations.

A majority of the reductions come from the elimination of budget contingency monies – $4 million.

The fund balance should cover unexpected fluctuations, Vargas said.

To shave an additional $2 million from the budget, 30 full-time positions will be eliminated, many of them teachers on special assignment and teacher and learning specialist positions.

An additional 18 full-time positions will be cut with continued declining enrollment. The district is expected to lose an estimated 330 pupil units next year.

Class-size ratios at all levels will be preserved: 23.7:1 in elementary schools, 24.7:1 in middle schools and 29:1 in high schools.

School Board Member Bill Harvey spoke with some educators whose positions are threatened by the proposed cuts and “what resonated with me was their lack of selfishness in regard to this,” he said.

The teachers understood cuts needed to be made, but they didn’t want the board to “sugar coat” the consequences of these necessary cuts, according to Harvey.

“This will affect the quality of education,” Harvey said.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson hopes the board will view this budget as a “low-water mark” and return money to various funds when it can, he said. “We are concerned to cut this deeply into this organization,” Carlson said.

The remaining $1.5 million in cuts will come from reductions in the utility budget contingency and staff development funding, as well as moving a variety of positions under different funding umbrellas.

“We’re still looking for continued efficiencies,” Carlson said.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]