Independent School District 834 leaders spent March 2 in a day-long session reviewing information and discussing in-depth the future of our schools. Topics included finalizing the $11 million budget reduction list that would be implemented should the current operating levy not be renewed; digging deeper into the new strategic plan; looking at equity issues across our schools, and considering short and long term plans to ensure the safety of our students.
While all are important, it is the discussion about our new strategic plan that has all district leaders most energized and excited. Our new strategic plan, which replaces the expiring Vision 2014, highlights building positive relationships with students, expanding partnerships with the community, creating personalized learning pathways, engaging students and families in learning and igniting students’ passions.
Within these focus areas are 56 action plans and more than 300 specific actions which represent significant changes to our school district and the learning experiences provided to our students.
We know that the changes defined in our strategic plan will propel us forward as a district, yet we also recognize the many obstacles standing between us and our goals. At the same time we work to implement these exciting changes for our students, we face great financial challenges. An $11 million operating levy is about to expire which will impact district revenue beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. We also face millions of dollars in unfunded state and federal mandates — more than $5 million in unfunded special education mandates alone.
In addition, we are required to transport all students in our school district, regardless if they attend public, private, parochial or charter schools. Funding for transportation, however, does not equal our actual costs — resulting in a $240,000 budget shortfall each year. These two unfunded areas alone equate to more than five percent of our annual budget. Add to these rising costs state funding that doesn’t keep up with inflation, and slightly declining enrollment, and the obstacles loom larger.
Despite those challenges, seeking more resources as the only alternative is something neither I, nor the school board, believes is right. Instead, we continuing to seek efficiencies and innovative ideas and use our resources differently to reduce costs. We cut our budget by $6.4 million this year, with an additional $2 million saved by expanding grants, switching to self-funded insurance, sharing services with partners and finding other money-saving measures.
We’ve made significant changes to district support staff at Central Services, and continue to restructure to better serve students and teachers in our schools. We are committed to finding ways to run our district more efficiently and will work hard to re-allocate resources to help fund as much of our strategic plan as possible. Not only will our new vision prepare our students for a rapidly changing world, it also allows us to reprioritize, re-allocate resources and rethink how we operate our schools. We have the plan in place. Now is the time to take action.
Our strategic plan will no doubt change what we do. That is its purpose. What excites me as a parent and superintendent is that this plan focuses not only on new skill sets for students and staff, but also on relationships, service to others and utilizing students’ passions to “spark” their learning. Many of these areas have become a “second-thought” with our advances in technology. However, they are at the very root of the work we do in life and the communities that we live in.
I’m proud of the work our community and district staff have done together this year to design an even better school system for the future. Have a great spring break.
Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at [email protected] 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. Register for Stillwater Area Public Schools E-News at www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/subscribe.