|3/26/2021 11:38:00 AM|
CL School Board setting up for a fall referendum
by JEFF NORTONBudget reductions and how to remedy them in the future were the major topic of discussion at the Thursday, March 18 Chisago Lakes School Board meeting.
With over $1.4 million in cuts looming by June 30, 2021, there were some tough discussions to be had. The district is looking at the shortfall based on losing students over the past year, an increase in the general education formula, an increase in salaries and supplies and utilities and a couple of state level decisions. Those include an increase in the state special education revenue cross subsidy and a change in compensatory revenue.
As the amount has become more clear, the district has taken a survey of all the staff and had a review of those results by the Board Finance sub-committee and the administrative teams, who then brought a proposed list of reductions to this meeting.
During the reduction process, the board wanted to focus on keeping certain aspects free from too many cuts, including early learning and interventions and they wanted to attempt to reduce repeated costs versus one-time adjustments.
The most drastic and major cuts come at the teaching level. Throughout the district, the proposed cuts include seven full time teaching positions, including two at the Primary School, two at Lakeside Elementary, one at Taylors Falls Elementary, 1.33 at the Middle School and a .67 position at the high school. There would also be multiple paras cut at Lakeside and Taylors Falls, and some activities would be shuffled around to fall under the Community Education umbrella, including Winter Speed and Strength, and possible One Act Play and the Middle School Play, as well as Knowledge Bowl.
The breakdown of reductions
District-wide - $228,434
Lakeside Elementary - $240,000
Primary School - $128,976
Taylors Falls Elementary - $142,000
CL Middle School - $265,000
CL High School - $374,076
Activities - $52,010
Total - $1,430,496
With projections for class sizes in 2022, a couple of grades in the elementary ranks would see high numbers with grade three at TF having 29 students and grade four at Lakeside classrooms at 28-29. Overall the district projects to be down about 100 students in grades K-5, which equates to roughly four sections which is how many elementary teachers are in the proposed cuts.
“My eyes go to that 29 number and that is concerning. I want to make sure that if numbers go up, we revisit this,” Board member Lori Berg said. “It’s not my goal to have more kids in a class after a pandemic. It’s not a good time to have large class sizes. If they get higher than that, I’m going to be uncomfortable.”
Board member Jeff Lindeman, who is a former teacher, didn’t like seeing that number of teachers on the chopping block.
“I would just like to add that I think we need to put our priotities with that classroom teacher and if there are other areas that we can look at in support, and I think there are, I hate to see those classroom teachers go, over something else,” he said. “When we are talking about barebones and cutting, we do need to stick with the priority we set, which was classroom teachers and there could be other things that could make that more palatable that fit with our priorities.”
Board member Brenda Carlson followed, “Our adminstration has spent hours on this, and you have back them a little bit on what they’ve done. They are in the trenches. We have to back some of these guys that have been in hours of meetings.”
Lindeman wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t not backing them, but said that teachers and support staff are also in the trenches and they are the ones mainly affected by these decisions. “I would just say we must be careful to stick with our priorities of classroom teachers over items,” he said.
Board chair Mark Leigh, who has been through four straight years of cuts, said, “In order to make the $1.4 million, we had a lot of hard decisions. We don’t want to cut a classroom teacher. We’re thankful there wasn’t more. If there are 100 fewer students, what are we going to do? We don’t have the revenue. We’re here to do what needs to be done.”
Berg added, “I think for the administration, in year four of budget cuts, it’s really hard to find things other than teachers. No one wants to cut teachers and we’ve always prioritized them, but when the numbers aren’t there, it’s hard. I’m not justifying anything, but I see where we’ve gotten to this point.”
After the discussion, the Board moved on to their main way of potentially solving the budget crunch they’ve been under, and that’s an operating levy. They currently have a $225 per pupil levy in place that was approved in 2014 and runs through 2024. Superintendent Dean Jennissen said this is below the state average and many of the surrounding communities. He said the school’s primary funding source is money from the state, but that years back, there was a shift that put some of the onus on local taxpayers to fund schools.
The board was exploring the possibility of a levy last year prior to the pandemic, and decided against asking the public for money once it became clear how uncertain things were going to be.
The board was unanimous in their support of hiring Todd Rapp of Rapp Strategies and Peter Leatherman of Morris Leatherman to help get information out to the public on a potential operating levy and to guage what number the public would be comfortable with. “We have to have an education plan and to figure out what do we truly need as a district, not only with budget problems, but looking into the future,” Leigh said. “I’m in full agreement in moving forward with this professional help.”
Board member Melissa Donovan added that she thinks “it’s important to do. To go out for that levy would help us not have to be back in the same spot doing budget cuts again.” And although Rapp and Leatherman’s cost comes in around $65,000, Donovan said, “Being able to spend some money now to not keep cutting the budget is huge for me.”
“They are going to help get the information out and get a plan,” Carlson added. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to be able to get there.”
“We need to know what the number of the operation levy represents, including retaining and attracting quality staff,” Lindeman said. “We need to get in a position where we aren’t constantly cutting. Whatever the things that are out there, we need to know what every dollar of an operating levy represents, so we’re not just throwing a dart at a target that is moving.”
The board unanimously agreed to authorize Jennissen and Director of Business Services Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson to sign an agreement with Rapp and Leatherman, but Lindemand did note before the agreement, referring to the cost, “It’s [the cost of] a teacher. I want to make this work.”