Possible budget cuts total $11M

ISD 834 officials: Levy renewal failure could impact students

The Independent School District 834 Board was presented a budgetary worst-case scenario Thursday if voters reject a levy renewal in November.
District staff presented cost center budget reduction recommendations to the board at a learning session Thursday night.

The proposed reductions total $11 million and 68 percent of those cuts would directly affect students in the classroom including eliminating teaching positions and student support positions; increasing class sizes; eliminating free all-day kindergarten; restructure and/or close an undetermined elementary school; reducing class times and elective classes; reducing support services for struggling students and coordination of student testing and assessment, and also eliminating school-based alternatives to suspension.

“Everything we’re talking about here are things that we hope never to implement. But as you know, come November we have an important question placed in front of our community members and we need to keep our members informed about what happens if the referendum isn’t passed.” said Assistant Superintendent of Business and Administrative Services Ray Queener.

Some board members expressed their concern that the proposed cuts targeted students. Queener admitted students would be affected if cuts had to be made.
“We’ve avoided at all costs in the past having cuts effect students but we’re at a point where those options no longer exist,” Queener said.

Other cuts that might occur if a levy doesn’t pass are in facilities and operation, learning environment, curriculum and instruction, general administrative services, transportation, activities, security and professional development. Transportation and learning environment changes such as bus changes and possibly considering changing to a four-day school week would also affect charter and non-public students.

A group of experts that include parents, teachers and district staff have been working since early December to determine reductions. The groups were given the task of planning to cut 12 percent of funding from their budgets if the referendum fails and consider an additional six percent that could be dipped into if more money was needed.

Despite the many recommendations, Queener said there’s more planning to consider before the board faces budget cutting decisions if a levy does not pass.
The district holds town hall meetings from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo and Wednesday at Stillwater Junior High School at which district residents can share their concerns. Queener and ISD 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn and Queener will discuss the cost center cut recommendations and levy history and the meetings will break into small groups to speak with facilitators and provide their feedback. The meetings also include a presentation on the district’s new strategic plan. Feedback from the two meetings will be presented to the school board next Thursday.

Cuts and final budget cut recommendations in the case of an unapproved levy will be determined at a day-long meeting March 2. Those recommendations will bepresented at the March 7 board meeting. The final vote on the recommendations is binding and the district hopes determining which cuts are needed and communicating those with the community will show the importance of passing the operating levy renewal.

A final decision on the levy request total will be made in April. Those interested in attending a town hall meeting are encouraged to register online at www.stillwaterschools.org/townhall by today.

Also at the meeting:

  • Coordinator of Educational Innovation and Technology Mike Dronen and Lake Elmo Elementary Principal Stephen Gorde presented an update on the media center working group discussion. That group has been meeting since spring 2011 to figure the best way to improve media center programming. They presented their vision and ideas about what they wanted for future media specialists. The group expressed concerns about getting a better catalogue system and making sure that the media center remains the center and heart of every school to encourage the joy of reading and literacy through a variety of new ways while engaging 21st century skills.