The Chisago Lakes School Board voted earlier this year to cut $1.2 million from the 2009-10 budget, but some cost-cutting practices were already in place last school year to start trimming the budget.
Superintendent Mike McLoughlin knows the cuts to personnel, specifically special education paraprofessionals, was difficult and will have an impact on classroom instruction, but remains realistic that more "painful" cuts will need to be made for the 2010-11 school year as well.
This year, much of the cuts come from what district officials termed "budget right-sizing." Looking at everything from supply costs, transportation, field trip budgets and custodial costs, each building principal was asked to look at ways to start trimming costs to end the 2008-09 school year, and then come up with a list of cuts that could be made at each building for the upcoming year.
Although students in the district won't start classes until Sept. 8, some of those budget cuts started the first day of summer vacation.
Summer custodial help was cut at all the buildings, which translates to busier schedules for existing custodians. It also means that maintenance and repairs are the priority over aesthetic improvements.
"There hasn't been any spruce-up painting or cleaning and maybe not the deep scrubbing that we are used to seeing," Director of Building Services Heide Miller said. "A lot of staff are emptying their own trash. We need to concentrate on our primary building needs," she added.
Earlier this summer, a group of volunteers, including Principal Brenda Schell, added some new paint to hallways at the Primary School. A group of high school students has also been busy this summer working on service projects like cleaning lockers at the middle school. It is part of a grant obtained through the Central Minnesota Jobs and Training program.
Custodial cuts add up to savings of more than $130,000.
Miller said the district also looked at transportation costs and was able to cut an elementary route and a secondary route from its bussing schedule.
"We were able to cut a route for Taylors Falls Elementary because some of the routes were pretty light," Miller said. "We probably can't cut any more routes after that."
She estimates the cost savings at around $56,000 due to the route reduction. The only other savings in buses to and from school each day would come from making the move to all-day, every other day kindergarten, which would save around $100,000 a year. While the option has been discussed by the school board, Miller said, "it is on the back burner."
Also on the list of cuts, the part-time middle school activities director position. Seventh grade teacher Pat Collins had been in the role for several years, but now middle school scheduling duties will shift back to the high school activities department.
McLoughlin said CLHS Activities Director Perry Aadland and secretary Barb Wikelius will be busy handling all secondary scheduling activities. The move results in a $10,000 cost savings.
The board had originally discussed the option of changing middle school sports to a four-day weekly schedule, eliminating Friday games and practices to save money. The option was taken off the list until it can be discussed by the district's teacher's union, McLoughlin said, but he still hopes to implement the move this school year.
Parents will also see a push to go paperless in all district schools. Miller said the district has all but eliminated paper copies of school and district handbooks. They will still be available to parents who choose to have one, but all handbooks are now accessible at the district's website. Miller said the district also hopes to conduct a parent survey about the necessity of weekly communication folders at the elementary level.
"We have some parents saying they don't look at the information in the folders, other than reading the teacher letter," Miller said. Plastic communication folders are purchased annually for all elementary grade students.
McLoughlin said parents will be asked to update contact information so the district can implement the SkyAlert notification system. SkyAlert is a system used to notify parents of school closures and delays. Miller said parents can choose to be notified via email or phone. The system is equipped to send out hundreds of emails simultaneously, or a pre-recorded message via telephone. McLoughlin said a large volume of phone calls can be completed in a matter of minutes. Contact information will be compiled at building open houses before the start of the school year.
At the high school, administrators cut 18 percent from the supply and field trip budgets. It will result in a savings of $35,780 this year.
Miller said there are not many field trips taken by high schoolers, but they include trips by certain classes, such as Spanish students attending the Festival of Nations. Trips being considered for elimination could still be possible, but students and parents would have to foot the bill, she said. Some district field trips, such as the sixth grade trip to Wolf Ridge each year, are already entirely paid for by the student/families.
At its July retreat, the school board discussed decreasing field trips at all levels, and encouraging teachers to take trips closer to home. Miller and McLoughlin agree there are several local sites ideal for low-cost trips.
"We have a lot of resources around here, the state parks, Franconia Sculpture Garden, Festival Theatre," Miller said. "It's about being creative, or asking parents to pay for it."
McLoughlin said the district will be establishing energy goals, as a way to both save money and be more environmentally conscious. The board previously approved a rate schedule for small electronics used in classrooms, such as microwaves, coffeemakers and refrigerators. Teachers will now have to pay an annual fee to have these items in their rooms.
"We may decide to decrease temperatures in the buildings too," Miller said.
One possibly contentious item in the cuts is the elimination of one physical education position, shared by Lakeside and Primary schools.
The breakdown translates to a .7 cut at Primary and a .3 cut at Lakeside, meaning that more phy ed hours will be cut at the Primary School. Phy ed classes will be larger this year at Lakeside, but the amount of time students spend in phy ed will not decrease. The reduction is a $58,000 cost savings.
McLoughlin said board members shared concerns about the decrease in phy ed time, and he is working with the two building principals to find the best schedule for both buildings.
Since the budget cuts were approved, McLoughlin has been looking ahead to making even tougher decisions for the 2010-11 school year.
"My big concern is the budget next year," he said. "We're looking at a deficit and deeper cuts," he said, which most likely will include more part-time teachers and staff. He knows it is difficult to discuss job cuts, but knows many employers are in the same position.
"We are in different times right now," he said. "We're hoping our employees see that. We all know what's happening to our friends and neighbors, and the principals and staff do know that cuts will need to be made next year."
Miller said the district will start delaying capital improvement projects in order to save teacher positions. She doesn't see any major projects necessary in the next two years, but repairs and replacements will have to continue.
"Just like our own homes, things wear out and need repair, but most of our buildings are in good shape," she said.
McLoughlin expressed his appreciation of administrators and district staff, all of whom took voluntary pay cuts and wage freezes.
"It was a gracious move to do that," McLoughlin said.