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In November, voters in the Milaca Public School District opted to vote down a bond and operating referendum that would have allowed the district to make improvements and address a number of its needs.

As a result, the school district is facing some difficult decisions in the near future, but what is certain is that there will need to be budget cuts.

The request for the bond and operating referendum arose because of a number of factors, including loss of students to open enrollment, decreased overall enrollment, an increase in the annual cost of business and increases in special education cross-subsidies.

At the Jan. 22 Milaca School Board meeting, Milaca Public Schools Superintendent Tim Truebenbach broke the news that the district would need to make $1.2 million in cuts for the 2019-2020 school year.

The budget cuts will affect the staff, students, their families and the entire community. Though the district was aiming to avoid this situation with a successful bond and operating referendum, school district leaders have no other options but to look internally at where they may be able to make the necessary budget adjustments. 

On Dec. 17, the school board approved a $2 million donation with the donors requesting a portion be used for safety modifications. The district’s finance committee has recommended up to $400,000 be used for the safety modifications. On the donation, Truebenbach said, “We want to balance the wishes with the needs. … It would be irresponsible to spend it all at one time.”

The other members of the board shared Truebenbach’s frustration with the situation the district finds itself in.

“It’s unfortunate sometimes we have to go through the painful process of cuts,” Vice Chair Jere Day said. Offering an opinion on ways to lessen the blow, he said, “Maybe we look at increasing revenue somewhere to do the least damage to staff and programs as possible,” indicating increasing ticket sales for events could help reduce the number of cuts.

Chair Jeff Larson said: “There’s something wrong here in our actual budget. … What we’re facing has been thrust upon us by the state and federal government, and I’m not happy about it,” speaking about the increase in cross-subsidies for special education.

Preliminary discussion of areas where reductions may be made started, and administration is currently undergoing the process of looking for areas that could be potential candidates for cuts, but no final decisions have been made.

With the remaining $1.6 million budget shortfall, the school district is researching areas and preparing a list of potential cut options to include programs and positions, which will be presented at the Feb. 4 study session. The board is accepting ideas and suggestions on areas where the district could make potential reductions and has urged people to offer their opinions by email at tim.truebenbach@milaca.k12.mn.us or by phone at 320-982-7210.

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