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School District Examining “Out-of-Box” Savings; Pay-To-Play Athletics, Ending Family Health Plans On Table
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School District Examining “Out-of-Box” Savings; Pay-To-Play Athletics, Ending Family Health Plans On Table

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Wolf Point school officials continue to look for cost-savings as the chairman of the school board asked the school district’s two co-superintendents last week to “think outside the box” and come up with more cost-cutting proposals.

The school board’s finance committee met Sept. 21 for a financial review and update.

The school district’s new business manager, Cherí Nygard, was introduced at the meeting.

Co-superintendent Joe Paine said the school district had saved $113,290 in salaries and insurance in the prior month due to transfers and the elimination of positions.

Co-superintendent Eileen Karge added the cost-savings would have been higher if the school district had not had to fund the contract buyouts of 13 educators.

Paine also reported that the school district raised $188 during a Sept. 17 sale of obsolete equipment.

“That’s money in,” said school board chairman Martin DeWitt.

Paine and Karge discussed the status of the school district’s now-vacant central office on Main Street.

Karge said one undisclosed entity had proposed leasing the building for three years, while another entity proposed a more long-term lease with six-year increments.

Karge said the school district would advertise for potential tenants, who would be invited to an upcoming meeting of the facilities committee to make their pitches.

Karge said the facilities committee will then make a recommendation to the entire school board.

DeWitt asked Paine and Karge if they had had any success locating funding to build a new school building.

“Nope, haven’t done that yet,” Paine replied.

Karge then discussed the school resource officer, following the city of Wolf Point’s commitment to fund the position for 20 weeks between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012.

Karge said the school district had yet to give the city 60-day notice of terminating the SRO contract.

“That’s probably a good idea,” DeWitt said.

“What’s the next step for cost savings?” DeWitt asked.

“I think we just tighten our belt as much as we can and continue to look for cost savings and go ‘outside the box’ for ideas,” Paine replied.

DeWitt suggested implementing a pay-to-play policy for student-athletes.

Paine said activities director Mike Erickson opposed the pay-to-play proposal.

Paine said if parents are asked to pay $100 to $150 for their child to participate in sports that parents would expect their children to get playing time.

“That’s understandable,” DeWitt said, suggesting investigating other cost-saving proposals.

Karge said the school district should have “some solid idea of where we’re at in December.”

DeWitt asked for a buffet of cost-savings ideas from which the school board could pick and choose.

“We all know the majority of money goes to salaries,” Karge said. “We all know, I think, that we can’t afford hardly anything if we’re not going to cut staff. We can’t be giving raises if we want to keep the staff we have. Pretty soon, we’re running out of options and it comes back to staffing.”

Paine said the maximum class size allowed by the state is 30 students.

“Some are at 29,” Paine said of class size. “We are utilizing our teachers to the maximum and I think that is in every building.”

Patricia Toavs, president of the Wolf Point Education Association and junior high special education teacher, said either side can open up the certified staff contract negotiations.

“All you have to do is ask,” Toavs said.

School board member Tracy Juve, who chairs the finance committee, suggested exploring health insurance savings.

“The company is fine,” Toavs said, adding the school district could examine other health plan options.

DeWitt said a health insurance committee would be appointed. Juve volunteered to serve on the committee.

“You can cover the employee only,” Karge said. “Our teachers and administrators are used to having this ‘Cadillac’ insurance. That is something that has drawn people to our district. We don’t want to do so much that we can’t attract also.”

The current health insurance plan covers family members of employees, at a cost to the school district of $16,272 annually per policy.

The finance committee is scheduled to meet again at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24.

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