GFW board OKs $646K in budget cuts

FAIRFAX – The Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) School Board unanimously approved a $646,000 budget reduction for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget Monday night.

Superintendent Lonnie Seifert said the reduction includes one staff non-renewal, a math teacher who resigned, a physical education teacher who is not returning to the district next fall and an administrative cut to be identified at the May board meeting.

Seifert said he and high school and middle school counselors would handle student mental health issues next year as part of the budget cuts in an effort to balance the school budget next year.

Board member Lee voiced concern about cutting a social worker “because teachers and administrators are not social workers.” A resolution to recall the mental health counselor cut to the May meeting was unanimously approved.

Seifert said one option would be to recall the mental health counselor position if funding becomes available, possibly from added state funding approved this year by the Legislature. Seifert said an FY 2020 budget must be set by June.

Earlier in the meeting, business manager Lindsey Heine said $699,373 in proposed revised budget reductions last spring were never made. In addition, high winter utility bills created a situation in which budget cuts were needed to balance the district budget.

The board spent most of the two-hour meeting time reviewing facilities task force referendum options with Seifert and Preston Euerle of R.A. Morton Construction of St. Cloud.

The task force’s top choice is a new school option to be built at a new site for $50.8 million. Second choice is a $28.9 million remodeling and building option for a prek-6 school in Winthrop and a 7-12 school in Fairfax that would add a secure entrance, two new gyms, locker room remodeling and a new music room.

Winthrop board member Michael Kuehn he favored building a school for grades 3-12 at a new site and remodeling the Gibbon school for prek-2 at a cost of $45.2 million.

“I think the board should look at this. I think it punches the ticket. It’s the best bang for the taxpayer’s buck,” Kuehn said. He said that option was better than remodeling old school buildings.

“We are not remodeling every square inch of the existing buildings,” Euerle said. “So the work you did on the roof and boilers can be considered for long-term facilities use. The Fairfax remodeling includes tuck pointing of the old addition that should last for a number of years.”

Euerle thanked the board and task force for their meetings among themselves and creating 10 referendum building options plus the recent three public meetings at each school.

“This was a very intricate process. We had no shortage of opinions. Thanks for your help,” Euerle said.

Seifert said the board has more time to study building options if it opts for a February 2020 referendum election instead of a November 2019 vote. Projects would take nearly two years to complete.

Board member Kelsey Odegard asked Euerle to find out how much utility costs would be saved with a new building compared with an older building, how much it would cost to provide utilities for a new building site and who would pay for other costs like sidewalks at a new site.

“We’re here to work with you on what you want to do. We consider your questions our homework,” Seifert said regarding bond referendum options.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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