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Stillwater School District headed back to chopping block

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Despite passing an $11 million renewal and  $5.2 million levy increase, District 834 is once again facing impending budget cuts.

“Having to deal with more budget reductions so soon after a successful levy is disheartening for all of us,” Superintendent Corey Lunn said. “But, the levy wasn’t going to fix our problem – we could not ask for enough money.”

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District 834 School Board approved $1 million in staff reductions, which will increase classes by an average of one student, during its March 13 meeting.

Additionally, the district will be discussing another $1.5 million in adjustments at Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s never fun to adjust your budget,” Lunn said.

Lunn said District 834 knew going into the levy process that more budget cuts would be needed because the district had been deficit spending for so many years.

“The fund balance can no longer take that,” he said, “and we have declining enrollment.”

While the approved levy dollars will help grow new programs, enhance school security and help implement the district’s strategic plan, budget cuts are needed to adequately respond to rising utility costs, property and liability insurances and employee costs.

During the March 13 meeting, District 834 School Board was presented with a list of possible budget adjustments, which were left over from previous budget work.

“We gave them a menu that came from the work we’ve already done with the budget committee,” Lunn said.

The proposed budget adjustments include $719,398 in cuts to general administrative services, $495,000 to learning environments and $4,020 for activities.

The specific line items are:

  •   Transfer capital budget dollars to general fund
  •  Increase draw from post-employment benefit trust to pay for retiree costs
  • Reduce school marketing/communication budget
  •  Reduce consulting, external trainings, memberships and printing costs at Central Services
  •  Increase chargeback from Community Education and increase chargeback to building for vending machines
  •  Restructure security at secondary schools
  •  Reduce co-curricular budget at Stillwater Area High School through reduction of one-day-per-week of weight room and by paying for prom advisor from receipts

One additional line item, totaling $425,000, would adopt a new model at Marine and Withrow elementary schools, the district’s smallest schools, as well as at the St. Croix Valley Area Learning Center.

At Marine and Withrow elementary schools, some of the possible scenarios for the 2014-15 school year include creating specialized schools, expanding marketing efforts, reducing staffing and combining grade levels.

Whereas Marine Elementary staff and parents favored creating a community service-focused specialty, or “theme,” school, Withrow Elementary staff and parents favored a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) theme school.

The redesign options were compiled by the Innovating Small School Committee, which is made up of parents and staff at both schools.

The need for programming changes to the two schools is, in part, a result of declining enrollment. Both buildings are under capacity and have seen an increase of students in the attendance area choosing other educational options, according to the district.

District 834 School Board will continue its budget discussion Thursday.

“We’re getting pretty good at this by now,” Lunn said. “The list is getting smaller every year.”

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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