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School board approves cuts

October 10, 2012
Jenn Brookens , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Fairmont Area Schools on Tuesday approved cutting all non-mandated programs in the 2013-2014 school year, if a Nov. 6 referendum is unsuccessful.

Among the cuts are all sports and co-curricular programs - football, cheerleading, tennis, volleyball, cross country, basketball, gymnastics, wrestling, golf, softball, baseball, track, speech, robotics, Knowledge Bowl, math league, yearbook, fall and spring play, musical, student council, band concerts, choir concerts, orchestra concerts, science fair, as well as the positions of activities director and assistant.

At the elementary school, 6.5 teaching positions (art, music, physical education, fifth- and sixth-grade band and fifth- and sixth-grade orchestra) would be eliminated. Elementary art, music and physical education would be taught by classroom teachers.

At the high school, two teachers (vocational electives and physical education electives) would go.

The cuts total $754,000.

In addition, the district will shorten the school day, with classes beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 2:22 p.m., reducing the school day to the exact number of minutes required by state law.

In unanimously approving the cuts, the school board was somber, with some members moved to tears.

"This is the first time [as a board member] I have felt like crying," said Sandy Beckendorf. "This is the first time I really, really feel like we are hurting our children and there is nothing we can do about it if [the referendum] doesn't pass."

The district voted not to fund the programs because it doesn't have the money to do so and maintain a balanced budget.

District residents are being asked to supply the funding to reinstate the programs, by voting yes to a per-pupil levy increase of $450, bringing the total excess levy to $950. The average school operating levy in Minnesota is $942.

For comparison, Granada-Huntley-East Chain residents pay $2,558 per student, Martin County West residents pay $1,540 and Truman residents $1,476.

Should the local levy pass, the tax impact for a $77,000 home in Fairmont is $87 per year. For a $160,000 home, the increase is $186 per year.

If the referendum doesn't pass, the district's current $500 excess levy will expire in 2014, costing the district $1 million annually. In addition, when the current levy runs out, the district will lose equity funding from the state that is given to districts that have an operating levy in place.

"The future of Fairmont Schools is in the hands of Fairmont [voters]," said board member Joe Kurtzman.

Board member Diane Gerhardt said that if the referendum doesn't pass and the programs remain unfunded, the district will consider donations from the public to fund them. However, federal gender equity laws still must be enforced. So, for example, if football boosters manage to raise enough funds to pay for football, the public would need to ensure a girls sport, such as volleyball, is provided as well.

Public forums on the referendum will be held in the William Budd Room at Fairmont Elementary School in coming days: 6 p.m Monday, 9 a.m. Oct. 20 and 10 a.m. Oct. 22. There also will be a forum held 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Ceylon City Hall.

In other business Tuesday, the school board approved an agreement allowing students in the building trades class to work on a home off site.

The agreement between homeowners Brad and Tara Haugen, Hertzke Construction and Millworks and Fairmont Area Schools lays out a plan whereby students will be assigned certain tasks overseen by their teacher, with Hertzke completing the job. Financial responsibility for the project lies with the Haugens.

The site is south of the high school, near the soccer fields.

"I was not fond of this project initially," said Superintendent Joe Brown, citing safety concerns. "I have actually become very warm to this project. The beauty of this is it protects the school from financial responsibility."

The building trades class traditionally builds a house on high school grounds and sells it at auction, but the previous two houses have not attracted high enough bids to pay for the cost of materials.



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