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School budget cuts may spare class sizes

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education Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Class sizes in District 833 schools likely will remain unchanged next year, but the district will consider budget reductions that still could affect staffing.

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Superintendent Mark Porter said he expects that the School Board will approve some spending cuts for 2011-12 if state aid remains flat or is reduced.

The district has $17 million in reserves but will not rely solely on those funds as a way to avoid spending cuts, Porter said. Doing so would require around $11 million of reserve funds.

"That's just too much, too quick," he said of depleting the district's fund balance.

Instead, Porter said, the district may use spending reductions and reserve funds to balance the budget if there is no state aid increase.

Porter and School Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd said there is not a specific budget plan ready for consideration, but spending reductions could include staff positions. Schools have been given one additional staff member, to be assigned as needed in each building. That policy could change because of spending cuts, Porter said.

There are no plans to enlarge class sizes, and the School Board voted unanimously Jan. 20 to preliminarily set the staffing ratio for next year at this year's ratios:

- 28.5 students per teacher in elementary school (smaller classes in grades K-3)

- 30.5 students per teacher at middle schools

- 31.5 students per teacher at high schools.

Those staffing ratios are averages, School Board member Jim Gelbmann said. That means that while there are high school advanced classes and other courses with only 15 or 16 students, other classrooms squeeze in 40 students, he said.

As the School Board prepares the 2011-12 budget, it should provide funding to shrink some of the largest classes, Gelbmann said.

Final staffing ratios will be approved March 24, said Aaron Bushberger, district finance director.

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