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Cuts, referendums on the table

ELLSWORTH -- Reductions or referendum or both.

The Ellsworth School Board and an audience numbering toward 200 people heard proposed budget options Monday from Supt. Barry Cain, including these possibilities.

Cain began with a list of budget reductions and enhancements under consideration. They might not be acted upon in their entirety, or at all, he emphasized. But he estimated the adjustments could approach $1 million if followed.

"This would structurally change what the Ellsworth schools are," he said.

A public forum on the budget options is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the in Ellsworth High School cafetorium.

The list was divided by district buildings plus a couple of programs and several other opportunities.

Under Hillcrest Elementary School, a savings of $73,000 would be realized through adjustments to the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program.

The teaching staff would be reduced as would state aid for the program that addresses class size. The overall cost could increase because five teachers might be needed at first grade and hiring of aides would reduce the savings.

Prairie View Elementary School action proposals include reducing second-grade staffing by one person, for a savings of $60,000, resulting in an estimated 29 students per class.

At Lindgren Early Learning Center, reduction of a half-time teacher position in the 4-year-old kindergarten program would save $19,815. There would be class size increases from an average of 19 to 24.

Proposed for the middle school are reductions by three full-time equivalents in core teaching staffing with projected class sizes in the low-to-mid-30s.

At the high school, eliminating the agriculture and German programs are on the table as well as reducing English, social studies, art, business and physical education staffing.

Under the special education program, a reduction of two full-time positions and two part-time positions is possible.

Under the co-curricular program, ideas range from eliminating athletics to save $150,000 to increasing participation fees and adding admission charges to raise $18,500.

Districtwide cuts could include eliminating counseling positions for a savings of $207,000. Other ideas are deferring the maintenance schedule, reducing the budget for technology and trimming food service staff, resulting in an as-yet undetermined savings.

Alternatively, the superintendent discussed two referendum scenarios, one of which would call for exceeding the revenue cap by $1.3 million on a non-recurring basis for three years and the other exceeding that cap by various amounts, also non-recurring over three years ($975,000 in 2011-12, $1,305,000 in 2012-13 and $1,925,000 in 2013-14).

These referendum plans don't guarantee there won't be any budget reductions, he said.

People in Monday's audience who spoke mostly favored avoiding drastic cuts, though some expressed concerns about the current economy and the district's present debt load.