Talk of the District: Schools take time to plan for our collective future”

By COREY LUNN

As superintendent of the Stillwater Area Public Schools, I have a unique vantage point. I am a staff member. I sit with the school board. I am a parent and I am a community member.

Each of those roles brings with it a different perspective. Since I joined the district last summer, I have been privileged to talk with many residents – each with their own perspective. But in all those conversations, one thing has remained constant: a commitment to our schools. The differences have usually been in what our schools should look like and how we should financially support them.

Since last November’s levy failures, the school board, staff and community have wrestled with how to manage our challenging financial realities. Working together, we have made budget cuts and prepared for more. We have become more efficient in how we manage the school district. The school board has been thoughtful and deliberative throughout this process, reviewing various options, scenarios and implications.

At Thursday night’s school board meeting, the board provided direction to postpone holding a levy referendum until 2013 based on a careful and extensive review of our financials, the economy and community feedback. This was not an easy decision, but it was an important one that acknowledged several things:

n In the current economic environment, our community is having to do more with less – so will we.

n We need time to complete a technology audit and facilities study, update our strategic plan and gather more community input about what they want their schools to look like. All of these steps will inform what financial support our students need.

n Thanks to our hard work making significant cuts and operational efficiencies, along with some one-time legislative changes and developing new partnerships, we have short-term breathing room. We made $6.4 million in cuts, with more to come. Our staff have stepped up to the plate and worked with us to keep contract costs down. We have reorganized and downsized staff in our central and school offices, while reducing staff in many areas. Painful, but financially necessary, decisions have been made.

However, despite aggressive cutting and improved efficiencies, we remain short on funds needed to continue meeting the needs of our students and the district will need to hold a levy election in 2013. Future funding from the legislature remains an unknown – and if funding remains unchanged, even more significant cuts will be needed.

The reality is this: if we don’t renew our existing levy by November 2013, it will expire and we will lose approximately $11 million per year in operating funds. By postponing a levy election until 2013, the school board has made a difficult, yet fiscally responsible decision. We can now take the time to plan and engage our community to envision the school system we collectively want and prepare for a levy in 2013.

We must continue to walk this path together, for our students and for our future. Thank you for your continued commitment to the Stillwater Area Public Schools. We welcome your ideas and involvement!

Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at lunnc@stillwater.k12.mn.us or by phone at 651-351-8301. Questions can also be sent by mail to Superintendent, Stillwater Area Public Schools, 1875 South Greeley Street, Stillwater, MN 55082.

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