|4/9/2021 10:37:00 AM|
Budget cuts finalized in special Chisago Lakes board meeting
by JEFF NORTONThe Chisago Lake school board spent nearly three hours Monday, April 5 hearing from concerned staff and community members and discussing their best course of action in regards to the $1.4 million pending cuts that were announced last month.
Chairman Mark Leigh made it clear at the start of the meeting that the board didn’t have to make their decision that night, and could make it at their regularily scheduled meeting Thursday, April 15, but many of the board members expressed that they didn’t think much would change in the next 10 days. At the end of the long meeting, the cuts were approved unanimously including eliminating one industrial tech instructor.
The meeting started with open forum, which saw a number of participants. Industrial technology teachers Ed Wakefield, Scott Frischmon, Ryan Dewey, Scott Loeffler and Jacob Krautkramer pleaded with the board to not eliminate one of their positions. “The middle school has already lost so much that has not been restored,” longtime teacher Wakefield said. “If these cuts go through, there will be more offerings at the elementary level than in the middle school. I have a daughter in elementary school and I’ve bled Wildcat green for 25 years, but I’ll have to think about if I want to enroll my child at our middle school with so many different opportunities now. Other than the incredible teachers we have at the middle school, there’s really nothing to keep people here.”
Frischmon, who is also a longtime teacher and has also been the victim of a cutting round 15 years ago before being hired bac, said, “I understand what these are and why they do them, but I have kids who are in college and have graduated from college and they have kept their industrial tech projects. The kids value these programs. These are important to them. If we take away from this programming, there are so many other options now for kids to consider.”
Dewey read support letters from parents and past students, Loeffler gave an impassioned speech about the excitement of industrial tech classes and how the district should be seizing opportunities to gain new students, not cutting programming, and Krautkramer also talked of his experiences as a first year industrial tech teacher after 18 years in Roseville.
Two community members, Jennifer Mickelson and Ryan Rongitsch, also pleaded with the district to use willing parents as resources. Mickelson offered to donate her time as a consultant to the district and urged other community members with corporate skills to step up.
“Parents want to get involved but they don’t know how,” Rongitsch added. “We want to get in the dirt with you, but at this rate you’re going to shrink yourselves until you’re gone.”
Rongitsch eventually shared his displeasure with the board hiring a marketing firm to help with an upcoming referendum and with the administrative salaries. “You don’t have a vision. And now it feels like you want to pay someone else for a vision for the district,” he said. “Our teachers and support staff step up and fill the gaps. There’s no guarantee that the levy will pass. I don’t agree with taking money today to hope for money tomorrow.”
After open forum, the board decided to go over the cuts site by site and discuss any issues or changes.
The biggest concern at the elementary level is the potential for some bigger class sizes in third grade at Taylors Falls and fourth grade at Lakeside, with both levels potentially looking at 28-29 students.
The elementary schools are in a tough spot with those class sizes because they’ve been calling and e-mailing to guage how many students will be coming back from the Wildcat Academy (distance learning) but won’t know the set number until later in the spring. Those large class sizes projection ssume that every student will return, which may not be the case. The district won’t know that until spring. But, the cuts need to be voted on.
Lakeside Principal Sara Johnson said, “Our recommendation does need to be to make the cuts and then talk soon. We are guessing enrollment numbers, so we just need time. Lakeside is down 50 students. These are the real realities. We understand we want to add somethings back, but let’s do it in a smart way when we definitely know the numbers of enrollment. We need that conversation, but it’s later in the spring.”
Board member Lori Berg added, “We have to have a firmer grasp. For parents that are worried, we don’t have a firm idea on the numbers, just projections.”
“We’ve always added teachers back when we’ve needed to,” board member Brenda Carlson noted. “We’re right there with the parents.”
Superintendent Dean Jennissen said that obviously the district doesn’t want to see these large class size numbers but depending on the numbers coming back, it may be closer to 24-25 instead of 28-29.
Jeff Lindeman, who is new on the board but attended meetings as a teacher and Chisago Lakes Education Minnesota representative for years, said, “If those high enrollment numbers come in, we are going to make sure that there are small class sizes, based on the history of what the board has done in the past.” Lindeman was referring to potentially hiring another teacher back if the enrollment allows.
Taylors Falls Elementary principal Jason Riebe said, “We wanted to be conservative for the purpose of planning, especially considering homeschool students as well. We are right on the edge and if there were numbers around 30-31, I would ask the board to allow me to hire a new teacher.”
The middle school discussion focused on potentially saving the industrial technology job, but it was too high of a cost and too complicated of a change to make. Because the cut is .33 at the middle school and .67 at the high school, saving the position would’ve also meant adjusting the high school cuts as well.
Principal Ralph Fairchild was able to save money by shifting interventions so they don’t take up a full class and moving the middle school experience back to what they feel a middle school should be, having core classes such as math, science and English linked together as a pod of the same students.
In doing so, the middle school day will go from seven class slots to six. Fairchild explained that the plan wouldn’t work with the industrial tech class back in the fold, so adding back in the industrial technology positions would come at a cost of nearly $174,000.
The board did stress that seventh and eighth graders would still have industrial tech, and only sixth graders, who have one quarter of industrial tech, would lose out on the class.
“Not making this reduction at the middle school is great in many respects, but it’s kind og redoing what we’ve done before,” Jennissen said. “It would put you in the range of $173,000 and if we are not reducing that out, where is that money coming from?”
“I feel like this is the least awful option” Fairchild said. “If we cut English teachers, there’d be a line of English teachers out the door saying why it’s the wrong decision. And they are all correct, but these are difficult decisions.”
The board briefly discussed using ESSER funds, which is COVID relief money, to save the position, but Carlson emphasized that they don’t want to use one-time funds for lasting positions. “There’s no guarantee we wouldn’t be right back here in the same spot next year,” she said.
“What Mr. Fairchild and his staff have come up with is certainly painful and hurtful,” Jennissen said. “But, it makes a lot of sense in the way he’s worked things out.”
High School principal Dave Ertl added that the high school will not lose any classes due to the .67 staff cut in IT at the high school level.
“With industrial tech classes, due to the safety concerns, those class sizes are different. You cant have 30 kids in those classes. We’ve stayed below those guidelines, but what this cut will do is that we’re at those state guidelines. Students will still have opportunities. What this cut does is constrict but doesn’t restrict. Class sizes will trickle up but I still think we can manage those.”
Berg, who had vocally expressed her concern for cutting positions earlier in the meeting did feel better about knowing that most students wouldn’t be missing out on opportunities.
“I wish we could save everything, but during budget cuts, we cant,” she said. “I don’t see how we can save the industrial tech position.”