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April 19, 2019

3/28/2019 12:49:00 PM
Some CLMS activities avoid chopping block in final review

After some tenuous special meetings earlier this month to specify district-wide cuts totalling nearly $2 million, the Chisago Lakes School Board acted on the cuts at their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, March 21.

Most of the cuts that had been outlined over the past few months stayed, but both boys and girls middle school basketball programs and the seventh grade football program were saved at the last minute.

Board member Brenda Carlson initially brought up saving the basketball program. Carlson, who is the high school softball coach, cited last years numbers in middle school basketball, which involved 73 athletes, and savings should be roughly $18,000 after factoring in potential fee increases. “A lot of people say ‘Oh, it’s just activities’, but it’s really another classroom. There are a lot of life lessons learned in athletics,” she said. “I still have kids from past teams calling me to ask me life questions.”
Other board members echoed Carlson’s sentiments. Board chair Mark Leigh said, “Middle school is a time to explore options with a little less stress. There’s no risk of cuts, and there’s just a different feel to it than varsity athletics, and I think that’s important.”

Board member Dani Strenke said, “I’d be disappointed in cutting middle school sports. Although my kids all played varsity sports later on, they loved their middle school experience and have some great memories from it.”

The basketball discussion evolved, it also moved to middle school football. The seventh grade football team only had 13 kids on it last year, and that left the sport as a whole on the chopping block at the middle school. But, high school assistant coach Jeff Sauressig, who also works with the middle school program closely, noted that there were 72 sixth grades out for football last season. Although some will go to traveling football, he still expected upwards of 35 kids to be out for the seventh grade team in the upcoming season.

Carlson, along with Activities Director Jodi Otte, quickly crunched the numbers of what it would take to keep the seventh grade program, while eliminating just the eighth grade portion that doesn’t have enough for a full team, along with potentially higher fee revenue.

The very quick and rough numbers that Carlson, Otte and Director of Business Services Doug Hasler came up with were a cost of $35,640 to keep the programs alive, with an estimated $13,250 in athletic fees coming back to the district, for a net loss of $22,390.

The board didn’t feel that number was significant enough to take athletics from what they were guessing was going to be about 105 children, so they voted to keep those sports available next year.

The middle school play was also saved. The board expressed that experience was unique for those kids and there wasn’t many other opportunities in their lives to participate in something like that.

Volleyball was also spared, as the board noted there wasn’t really any other local options for seventh and eighth graders to play, and it wasn’t realistic to expect them to play in the high school program.

The track team will be integrated into the high school program. With that influx, there was a 1.5 coach time position created at the high school level. The positions  safely monitor and coach all the extra kids that will be in the program.

The boys soccer program will also be integrated into the high school program, as the numbers have been down, and they’ve had multiple middle schoolers playing up in the program lately already.
The girls soccer program still has very strong numbers at the middle school level, so the Junior Varsity II team was brought back to accommodate all the girls that should enter the high school program.

The middle school wrestling program will join up with the high school team, which isn’t uncommon in that sport. Many of the lower weights at varsity competitions are filled by kids as young as seventh grade.

Outside of activities, the only change was a Reading Fluency Teacher retained due to a savings from retirement.

The other cuts were passed unanimously without any further discussion.

At the end of the tough meeting, Superintendent Dean Jennissen took a minute to address the board and nearly 45 people in attendance.

“Your concern for the students and staff of our district is commended. This process stinks. We have little control over revenue at the state level, but we are very grateful for our local taxpayers,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done and we want to do our best with what’s been entrusted to us.”

He continued, “It’s going to look worse before it gets better, as most of these savings won’t be seen until next year. Unknown variables with the state legislature and enrollment numbers are a factor, and we can talk about the whys and the hows, but it’s about balance and we’ll continue to decrease expenditures and tighten up our belt.

“We have great people in Chisago Lakes, great staff at Chisago Lakes and great students at Chisago Lakes. On behalf of the board, we thank you for you participation in the process and would appreciate your support going forward. There will be better days ahead.”

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