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Budget cuts on Farmington school board agenda

The Farmington School board is expected to take action Feb. 25 on a collection of cuts and fee increases meant to address an expected budget shortfall of more than $1 million for the 2013-14 school year.

The adjustments, presented to board members at Feb. 11 workshop, are the first step in an effort to address budget deficits finance director Carl Colmark has predicted could reach $4.6 million by the 2016-17 school year. This round of changes totals $1.13 million.

The biggest single item in last week's proposal is the suspension -- at least temporarily -- of a district-run health clinic at Farmington High School. When it opened, that clinic was promoted as both a convenience for school employees and a way to save on health insurance costs, but Colmark said last week it is less clear now how much of a benefit the facility provides. The clinic is open one day per week, and Colmark said it does not provide enough coverage to meet staff needs. The move to universal health care could also affect the degree to which the clinic is a benefit for the district. If the district is forced into a statewide health plan, Colmark said, there is little benefit to keeping the clinic open.

"We feel it's prudent at this point to close that particular structure until we have time to determine what our future is going to be," Colmark said. "We just need to make sure we're making the right choices going forward."

Suspending operations at the clinic will save the district an estimated $300,000.

The district expects to save an additional $229,000 by making adjustments to the discretionary positions the superintendent has available to fill staffing needs as they pop up, $150,000 in reduced paper use and $200,000 by replacing retiring teachers with younger teachers who will not be paid as much.

Board members raised some concerns about proposed changes to the district's special needs program, an estimated $60,000. Concerns focused mostly on the fact Colmark was not able to present specifics last week. He said he would provide specific plans before the board meets next week.

A 10 percent increase in participation fees for sports and activities would raise an estimated $30,000. This would be the second straight year participation fees have gone up in the district.

The ideas Colmark presented last week came in part from input sessions he held with district staff and community members. Those meetings encouraged participants to look beyond the typical path of cutting staff members.

Board members expect the budget process to get more challenging from here.

"Looking out, a million (dollars) isn't real difficult to cut in a budget such as ours," board member Laura Beem said last week. "When we're looking at 10 percent four years from now, that's going to be painful."

Colmark gave board members a preview of his thought process for those bigger cuts. Some of his early proposals include relocating the district service center, restructuring the district music program at all levels and moving middle school sports out of the school and under the umbrella of community education.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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