District 834 faces $10 million deficitAs Minnesota begins to emerge from its budget crisis, it’s time for District 834 to turn to its own operating costs.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
As Minnesota begins to emerge from its budget crisis, it’s time for District 834 to turn to its own operating costs.
For the past few months, District 834 School Board has been discussing the 2012-13 budget concerns.
“We do need to make some changes in efficiencies and be more innovative,” Superintendent Corey Lunn said. “That has seemed to be the message that people like.”
Stillwater Area School District, which includes a portion of Woodbury, will be facing a budget deficit of between $8 million and $10 million by the end of next school year.
Currently, District 834 School Board is looking at possible ways to close that gap.
Three options were presented to last month as possible options close that deficit.
“We have to try and find a way to make up that deficit,” he said.
Closing the gap
The first option calls for cutting up to $10 million for the start of the 2012-13 school year. The estimate represents more than 10 percent of the district’s overall operating budget.
The second option revokes the current operating levy of $964 per student, approved in 2007, and replaces it with the state’s maximum levy cap of $1,567 per student. Expenditures would also need to be reduced by $2 million to $4 million under that plan.
“Our need is more than we can even ask for,” Lunn said.
The third option is to revoke the current operating levy and replace it with a new levy somewhere below the state maximum levy cap, and then make up the difference with larger budget reductions.
With revenue from a new levy the district would be able to begin to implement some of the initiatives of the Vision 2014 strategic plan which include: maintaining appropriate class sizes, adding art classes in elementary schools, enhancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs for students in grades K-12 and providing more interventions to ensure students are successful in the classroom.
“We’re going to have to ask for more money,” School Board chair George Dierberger said.
Ray Queener, assistant superintendent for business and administrative services, said the deficit is caused by increased state requirements as well as less state funding.
“We’re utilizing the only vehicle we have to meet those needs,” he said.
In addition to a potential levy referendum, District 834 School Board is also considering including questions related to technology and science classroom upgrades.
“Technology is changing the way students learn, and in many cases, digital devices are replacing many of the textbooks and materials that have previously been used in the classroom,” Dierberger said.
A ballot question under consideration would provide $1 million per year for technology for 10 years.
Such funding could provide more technology for students, such as tablets, iPads, and laptops. Queener said the purpose of technology funding would be to bring equity into the schools.
He said technology funding could also help get the district on the path to implementing Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum.
“The ‘T' in STEM is technology and that is a key piece,” Queener said.
The final ballot question would provide resources to address concerns with the district’s current science facilities. Science labs at the high school and at Oak-Land Junior High are undersized and outdated, Lunn said.
“We don’t have enough science labs and the science labs we have were built at another time and are not adequate,” he said. “That’s the third leg of the stool.”
New state requirements mean that updated science classrooms are needed, Dierberger said.
An $18.1 million bond would renovate existing science labs at the two schools, as well as add additional lab space.
In addition, a specialized STEM lab would be constructed in each building. Finally, the bond referendum would also provide funding to improve air quality and ventilation at six district schools.
Going to the community
The remaining timeline for the referendum discussions includes holding focus group meeting with the community, gathering input and feedback before voting on a resolution at the Aug. 25 School Board meeting.
“This whole process started before I came on board, so my role has been taking it to the community with focus groups,” Lunn said. “That’s been a really good engaging process.”
Once School Board reaches a decision in terms of which referendum options to move forward with, District 834 will then go to the community to hash out the specifics.
Dierberger said the levy decision would be data-driven.
“We want to take as much emotion out of it as possible,” he said.
At this point the district has not heard much feedback from the community in terms of its options.
“We are at a crossroads,” Lunn said. “We can’t continue the way we have been, so we hope the community can support us.”