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Lakeland closes gap in operating budget forecast

Lakeland Union High School
Erin Gottsacker
Lakeland Union High School

The Lakeland Union High School administration is offering a series of budget reduction recommendations, including a few staffing changes, that will mostly eliminate a looming operating deficit of about $700,000 in the projected 2022-23 budget.

Meeting in special session Thursday, board members pored over the measures and added a few of their own during the 2 ½-hour meeting. No vote was taken, as the agenda item was listed as a presentation. The administration options did present a viable framework to avoid a large deficit this fall when the budget comes to the board for final approval.

Interim district administrator Claire Martin via video conferencing provided rationale and explanations for the measures. Incoming district administrator Robert Smudde also listened in by video conferencing, but did not take part in the discussions.

Six of the 10 expense reductions involve staffing changes. From a financial impact, the largest was reducing the school psychologist position to half-time from the one- and one-half-time position. That will save an estimated $115,000, according to finance director Greg Kopp.

Other proposed staffing changes include reduction of a case worker position in the English department, reduction of a para professional position in the special education department, elimination of a full-time position in the honors lab, a half-time reduction of a math position and elimination of full-time substitute teachers. For those positions, the district would realize some $239,000 in wage and benefits savings.

Martin told the board she needed direction on the staffing as preliminary notices of non-renewal have to be made by April 15, or the positions would roll over into the next school year.

The district could also see a savings of about $79,000 by reducing or eliminating teacher overload and committee pay, she said.

Kopp noted that he has learned that the district’s insurance carrier will not increase health insurance premiums this coming year. That was another $105,000 Kopp had built in his budget forecast last month.

Finally, the district could tap the district’s fund balance to cover $181,000 for new fire doors, air filters, concrete work and the welding program that will be offered next year. Under consideration also is using some $65,000 in federal grant (ESSER) money and requiring a user fee for sports and activities. The latter step could result in $15,000 of additional revenue.

While the above were the major budget adjustments, there were other areas that should be reviewed, the group indicated. Martin prodded the board to consider consolidating or not offering classes with fewer than 15 students.

Apparently off the table for now is a referendum to ask voters to increase property taxes for operating expenses. That was brought up last month, but no mention was made of it Thursday.

Kopp typically presents 3-4 preliminary budgets for the board’s review before a final one is approved for the annual district meeting in October. Shawn Umland praised the administration team for their work to reduce the projected deficit.

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