Few changes made in potential budget cuts

Board to vote on ‘worst-case scenario’ proposal Thursday

The Independent School District 834 Board made few changes Saturday to a laundry list of proposed budget cuts that would take effect if voters fail to renew an operating levy this fall.

Among the changes board members made to the proposed worst-case scenario budget cuts if the levy renewal fails was eliminating a $15 activity fee increase for students participating in activities who are on the free or reduced lunch plan. That amount was replaced with $10,000 less in insurance expenses for the general administration.

Board members changed the wording on two other items at their day-long learning session Saturday. Regarding music programs, language in the proposal was changed to reducing the grade five through 12 music programs instead of cutting fifth- and sixth-grade band and orchestra.

That change was made after Stillwater Area High School music department staff suggested Feb. 19 that the board consider eliminating the high school music program rather than the fifth- and sixth-grade programs to maintain the roots and health of a future music program.

“I was floored when the music teachers made their proposal the other night, but the more I think about it the more it seems to me, as much as I live and die for the program, cutting the high school program can continue to support our kids,” said board member Natasha Fleischman. “If we don’t have the program start until seventh grade, there’s not time to get a kid to pick up an instrument and start it, and by ninth grade, there are other opportunities for them to expand to further music options in the metro area and if music is their spark they can continue to pursue it outside of the school day.”

After the high school music department suggestion came before the board, ISD 834 Director of Secondary Schools Mike Redmond and Director of Elementary Schools Mary Anderson looked into other music-related options the board could consider if the levy fails.

They include:

  • Adopt the original budget adjustment proposal for the grades five and six programs;
  • Adopt a new proposal to make the budget adjustments in the grades 10-12 music programs;
  • Develop a new elementary specialist schedule that eliminates “pull-out music” and band/choir replace the current general music in grades five and six, or
  • Plan budget adjustments across the spectrum of grades 5-12 (adding sections to individual teacher workloads and eliminating teaching positions).

The board also kept the option to eliminate the free, all-day option for kindergarten on the proposd budget cut list and replace it with a paid full-day option determined to cost between $2,900 and $3,500.

Board members expressed concern about how that cost would effect the learning gap, and if residents would look to other districts such as North St. Paul, Maplewood-Oakdale and Forest Lake, which will provide free all-day kindergarten in fall 2013. If the levy fails and cuts need to occur, the average cost for kindergarten programs in the surrounding area is $2,831 while average costs for charter and public school programs in the district are $3,164.

How the music program reductions and kindergarten program changes could look will be determined later. The board is expected to vote on a final, binding list of possible budget cuts and the 2013-2014 school year academic calendar at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stillwater City Hall.