‘Tough process’ ahead for Stillwater schoolsDistrict 834 is now faced with the task of cutting nearly $10 million from its 2012-2013 school year budget after all three referendum questions posed to voters last week failed.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
District 834 is now faced with the task of cutting nearly $10 million from its 2012-2013 school year budget after all three referendum questions posed to voters last week failed.
The referendum questions were posed to lessen the $10 million deficit the district is facing next year and to provide technology upgrades at schools.
“I knew it was going to be close based on what I had been hearing,” District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn said. “Of course the hope was it was going to be close the other way.”
This year’s election saw a turnout of 13, 484 voters, which is roughly 35 percent of the district.
The Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) announced last week that 90 districts passed an operating levy question and 24 districts failed to pass a question. That represented a 79 percent passage rate for operating levies.
Of the 114 districts, 58 were seeking a levy renewal.
MSBA also showed that nine of 12 capital lease levies being approved, mostly for technology, were approved.
Additionally four out of nine building bonds were approved.
The three questions
The first question on Stillwater district ballots asked voters whether or not to revoke the current operating levy of $965 per student, which expires in 2013, and replace it with a levy of $1,456 per student. The levy would help lessen the district’s deficit from $10 million to $5 million.
The question failed with 52.14 percent voting against the levy. The question was separated by roughly 600 votes.
“That’s about as close as you can get, really,” Lunn said.
The second question asked voters whether or not to pass a capital projects levy of $980,000 a year for technology improvements. The question failed with 52.97 percent voting against it.
The third question asked voters whether or not to pass an $18.1 million bond request to renovate science labs and improve air quality at six schools. The question failed with 51.66 percent voting against it.
“I was a little worried that Question 3 would pass only because it had the most support since it was tangible and you could see it,” Lunn said. “My joke has been that we’ll have these new science classrooms with no teachers and technology in them.
“The most important one was Question 1.”
Lunn said he believes the levy failure was the result of both a poor economic climate as well as voters not being pleased with the state of the district.
“We made great strides, but I think people wanted us to go from step one to step 10 overnight,” he said. “I think they pretty much made their decision ahead of time.”
Deep cuts coming
District 834 is now tasked with cutting nearly $10 million from its budget, which is roughly 10 percent of the overall operating budget.
“I don’t think this district has gone through a significant budget process like this before,” he said.
District 834’s operating budget is roughly $88 million per year.
“I think people are going to be a little surprised and shocked at how deep these cuts are going to have to get to get to 10 percent,” Lunn said. “It’s going to be a tough process.”
The budget adjustment process will begin with the formation of a community involvement committee that will evaluate the 44 possible areas that can be cut to identify a priority list of cuts.
“We need to identify cuts we need to make and cuts we choose to make,” Lunn said.
Some of the areas that are being looked at for cuts include calendar adjustments, transportation, class sizes, co-curricular activities, staff reductions, supplies and materials, fees and revenue.
Possible cuts include: administration and support staff being cut by 10 percent; activity fees increasing by $50, the number of high school activities decreasing and all middle school activities being eliminated; employees’ hours being decreased; five teaching days being removed from the school calendar; all supply and material budgets being reduced by 20 percent; transportation services being reduced; and class sizes being increased by 10 students.
“Nothing’s off the table,” Lunn said, “anything from closing school buildings to changing programs to reducing activities and opportunities for students to class sizes – all of those things need to be looked at.”
Lunn said he hopes the community understands that some of the programs and services they have become accustomed too will have to be lost.
“My job is to look at all the kids,” he said. “It’s not going to be very productive to complain about the things we have to cut when the community gave us no other choice.”
Lunn said he hopes the community will be involved with budget adjustment plans.
“My request to the community, whether you voted yes or no, is that we need your help,” he said. “We need your involvement in this process.”
All budget cuts should be identified by the end of February.
The future of District 834
In addition to making specific cuts to its budget, District 834 is also going to need to look at ways to put itself in a better position in the future.
“We cannot continue to do things we’re doing now,” Lunn said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”
Lunn said District 834 could potentially face even more budget cuts over the next few years if its current levy is not renewed in 2013.
If the current levy is not renewed, that could be an addition $10 to $15 million in cuts.
Lunn said it is going to be very important for District 834 to evaluate its operations and efficiency.
“We’ve talked an awful lot about reinventing ourselves,” he said. “Maybe in three or four years from now we’re in better shape than we are now.
“If you have high expectations, you better have citizens who support those expectations because it seems like the expectations have exceeded the levy of support, which is a recipe for what you’re seeing here.”
In addition to working more efficiently, Lunn said the future success of District 834, and all school districts, will depend on how education continues to be funded.
Lunn said something different has to happen.
“It used be where levies were for wants; now they’re for needs,” he said. “If we don’t fund schools adequately, superintendents are just going to be fundraisers.”
Even though the next few months will be challenging for District 834, Lunn said he is optimistic that the district can come out on the other side.
“We can either come out of this stronger or weaker and if we work together we can provide a strong base for a stronger school district in the future,” he said.