Budget cuts hit three District 834 schools

After a March 27 school board meeting full of students, parents and community members passionately making the case for preventing cuts to their schools, three Stillwater area schools will get hit with budget cuts next year, including the St. Croix Valley Area Learning Center (ALC), Marine Elementary and Withrow Elementary.

These budget cuts come on the heels of cuts that impacted staffing at the school board meeting on March 13, when board decided to cut 30 full-time staff due to the $4 million budget shortfall that the district faces next year. After hearing how big class sizes will be next year at certain schools next year, Board Member George Hoeppner encouraged the board to rescind this cut for elementary schools, but the motion did not pass. Class sizes next year will be anywhere from 30-35 students, with Stonebridge and Lily Lake topping the list at 35 in some grade levels.

This latest round of cuts that affect school budgets will save the district a little over $1 million dollars. All of the schools faced with these cuts next year were significantly over their allotted budget last year and have been asked to look for efficiencies.

St. Croix Valley ALC

The St. Croix Valley ALC must cut $250,000 from its budget.

At this point the ALC remains in discussions with District 916 about partnering. As requested by the public at the March 13 meeting, the districts and the ALC will seek involvement from parents and students in the decision-making process.

“There are two things that could happen tonight,” said former ALC parent Tom Wendt. “You could either choose to send our kids to 916, or you could cut $250,000 from our budget, which we just heard about within the last 24 hours. We simply ask that it is a thoughtful and open process so that we can retain as much of the ALC as we can …We know this is not a decision to make lightly, but we simply ask that you give us the opportunity to study and create options. If the 916 option is the best option for our kids, it will stand up to the light of day.”

The board struggled with this decision to cut $250,000 at first, citing the fact that the school hadn’t been able to go through a process similar to what Marine and Withrow had been allowed to go through. Those schools had been given months to identify possible cuts. The board deferred to ALC Director Don Kirkpatrick to answer their question about the feasibility of a request of this magnitude and asked for a dollar amount he could work with.

“The answer is $250,000, because when we came here tonight, it was to hear that number,” Kirkpatrick said. “We, as other schools in the district, want to know what is our role in the efficiency movement that is going through the district. Generating more revenue is unlikely, and in reality we need to reduce our costs. The question is how to best do that.”

When Hoeppner asked if it was something that could be done, Kirkpatrick said that the cuts were so deep that some major changes in programming may need to be made, including possibly rolling back the grade 10 program that is currently in place. He added that he simply wanted to have an open process, like Marine and Withrow had, to discuss the changes with parents. The board voted unanimously to cut the $250,000 from the school’s budget.

Marine and Withrow

Withrow Elementary must cut $35,868, and Marine Elementary must cut $72,167.

Several parents, students and community members made their case to the school board to prevent these cuts. Marine parents asked the board to consider lessening the administration’s original proposal of cutting $116,644. Many parents spoke about marketing their school to try and increase enrollment and gain more money from that.

“We’d like you to move the level of budget cuts to the medium level that we presented to you last week,” Marine parent Stephanie Legrose said. “If you cut it at the highest level of $116,000, that’s the equivalent of cutting a teacher and a whole grade since there is one teacher per grade. I think we can attract new students to our school. We’d just like to have that chance.”

Several board members agreed with that request and approved the change to Marine Elementary’s budget.

Withrow lost $35,868 as per the administration’s recommendation.

The remaining $43,833 slated to be cut from Marine will instead come out of the fund balance.

Other adjustments will make up the $793,418 difference. Such adjustments include transferring capital budget dollars to the general fund, increasing the draw from post-employment benefit trust to pay retiree costs, reducing school marketing/communications budget, reducing consulting, external trainings, memberships and printing costs at central services, increasing the charge-back to community education, increasing charge-back to buildings for vending revenue, reducing the co-curricular budget at the high school and restructuring security at secondary schools. Leftover funds to reach the $2.5 million balance that remains will be taken from the fund balance.

State of the fund balance

In addition to these cuts, the district had already put $900,000 on the table on March 13 in a mutual decision to help ease staff cuts. The district will be under a 4 percent fund balance, according to District Finance Director Kristen Hoheisel, which is less than the desired 5 percent of annual operating costs.

“There are many ways this could affect the fund balance,” Hoheisel said. “Ideally they’ll build up the fund balance going forward. As we do our budget model we have to look at how we’re spending the money. At some point, in theory, expenses will be less than revenue which could mean a different way of doing business.”

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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