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Havre trustees take ax to school spending


Havre School Board members went through the painful process of prioritizing what spending requests to carry forward and what to table during the annual meeting to hash out the district's preliminary budget.

The board cut about $85,000 from initial requests after school administrators presented their wish lists for the 2003-2004 school year.

The changes are not final until the board votes on the budget on June 15.

In addition to special requests - one-time requests each school makes for special projects - the presenters submitted their budget requests that include everything from teachers' salaries to books to postage fees.

"You guys aren't making it any easier on us. You know that, don't you?" groaned board member Kathy Newell after hearing Sunnyside Intermediate School principal Linda Kaze present the primary school instruction budget, which included a special request for three Yamaha Clavinova electronic pianos to the tune of about $3,500 each.

Perhaps more than most years, tight budgets mean that schools may have to go without some of their requests next year, particularly in the elementary school district, where dwindling enrollment means a $218,000 shortfall out of a nearly $6 million budget. Increased enrollment in the high school meant that the proposed budget was actually $2,230 less than the maximum expenditure level in an almost $4 million budget.

Although the preliminary budget still must be approved by the board in June and again in August once funding levels are certain, school district clerk Ric Floren said the priorities made last night are likely to stick.

By the end of the three-hour meeting, board members had made about $85,000 in tentative cuts to the elementary budget, leaving a $134,000 shortfall.

That will be enough for now, Floren told the board. He said that after a few years of setting aside rainy-day money, the school district will be able to cushion budget woes with about $150,000 each year for the next two years.

"We are reaping the benefits of our preplanning," Floren told the board, adding that Havre school will not need to be making as many cuts as other districts. "After two years we'll be down in the gutter with everybody else."

Cuts made on Tuesday came largely from special requests made for plant operations, which includes basic operation of school buildings, including water and sewer. Four plant operations requests were tabled, saving a total of about $79,000.

Two of the requests were to replace the water system in Sunnyside Intermediate School, a two-phase project that would have totaled about $54,000.

Also tabled was a request to put a rubberized bladder system on the west wing of Devlin School. The $15,000 project would have prevented further water damage to the building from the leaking roof.

The last special request to be tabled was for a new autoscrubber used to clean tile and linoleum floors. The request was for $9,300.

Those projects may still be done next year, Assistant Superintendent Dennis Parman said this morning.

"I think that they'll come out of the building reserve fund," Parman said, referring to a fund that can only be used to build and maintain school district buildings. He said there would not need to be another building reserve levy brought before voters because there is money left over in the reserve from past funding requests.

Floren said there is a total of about $200,000 in the building reserve fund available for the next ten years, so all of the projects can probably be done next year.

"We've just kind of got to wait and see how the revenue comes in," Floren said.

Retained were two plant operations special requests totaling about $4,800, one for drinking fountains in Highland Park Early Primary School, and the other for sinks, partitions, and other bathroom fixtures at Havre Middle School.

Other tentative cuts

About $2,000 was cut from the middle school instruction budget. Havre Middle School Principal Vance Blatter said the money had paid for four elective classes that will no longer be offered. The four classes are model rocket-building, cooking, first aid, and a short story writing class. The classes will be replaced by new mandatory reading classes approved by the board on May 13.

$3,900 was cut from the elementary curriculum budget. The money would have paid for a plotter to allow students to make their own signs and posters, and a projector for a science classroom in the middle school.

$1,000 was cut from a $17,000 request for a new public address system for Havre Middle school. Blatter said the cost of the system will be $1,000 less than originally thought.


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