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Bemidji School Board: Board exploring 'new budget reality'

The Bemidji School Board is considering its options.

At a special meeting Monday night, the board explored ways it could make about $2 million in budget adjustments for next year.

The Bemidji School District faces a deficit of about $2 million from overspending last year and projected overspending this year.

Superintendent Jim Hess said in an interview Tuesday that administrators were asked to bring their building and department budgets into alignment with the district's "new budget reality."

Hess added that he insists the budget adjustments come from all areas of the district.

On Monday night, principals from the district's elementary schools, middle school, high school and alternative schools presented the board with their recommendations for budget adjustments. Representatives of food service, activities, buildings and grounds, community education, transportation and technology also made recommendations to the board.

Carol L. Johnson, board chairwoman, said in an interview Tuesday that district leadership had put a great deal of time and thought into recommending adjustments that would make the least amount of impact on students.

"I was really pleased to see that," she said. "We will work together to have the very best outcome that we can."

The board already made mid-year adjustments in January. The board, according to Hess, implemented a "soft hiring freeze," called back half the supply and equipment budgets from all schools, eliminated some planned big-ticket purchases and did not fill some vacant positions.

In an interview earlier this month, Hess said he believes the district will come close to reducing spending by $400,000 to $500,000 in this year's budget through the mid-year adjustments.

But with nearly $1.56 million in overspending last year and about $500,000 in overspending still projected for this year, the board is looking at making about $2 million in budget adjustments for next year.

Hess said the board will be asked to make budget adjustments at its April 20 meeting.

Lack of state funding, Hess said, has impacted the district.

"The state continues to under fund its constitutional obligation to provide for a thorough and efficient system of public schools," he said.

He said the state Legislature has historically under funded schools to the point that many of them have operating levies just to keep the doors open.

Last fall, voters in the Bemidji School District approved renewing the district's current operating levy of $501 per pupil for another five years.

As with the current operating levy, Hess said these operating dollars will continue all-day, every-day kindergarten and the timely replacement of school buses, and reduce class sizes.

"It did not provide any new money," he said. "It was to keep what we had."

Had the referendum not passed last fall, the board would have to look at making an additional $3 million in reductions per year, Hess said.