Stillwater district ponders what to cutThe task of cutting $10 million from the Stillwater School District’s budget is under way.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
The task of cutting $10 million from the Stillwater School District’s budget is under way.
District 834 sought voter approval for a new operating levy of $1,456 per student. However, the ballot question narrowly failed with 52 percent in opposition. The result means the district must maintain its current levy of $965 per student and cut $10 million, or 10 percent, from the budget.
District 834’s operating budget is roughly $88 million per year.
On Dec. 6, the Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee held its third meeting to discuss possible ideas for cuts.
“You’re going to make $10 million worth of decisions,” District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn said during last Tuesday’s meeting.
Funneling down the ideas
The Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee was developed in August since the district was going to be tasked with making budget cuts even if the levy did pass.
Ray Queener, the assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, said the committee was developed as a way to keep the community involved and engaged in the process since it affects their children and their schools.
“It’s the ability to have multiple perspectives,” he said.
The 32-member committee is made up of staff members and community members who both volunteered and were approached by the district for their involvement.
Over the next few weeks the committee will be reviewing a list of 44 areas that can receive cuts. The areas fall under the categories of calendar adjustments, transportation, class sizes, co-curricular activities, staff reductions, supplies and materials, fees and revenue.
Committee members will be asked to divide the 44 areas into three priority categories before developing potential ideas on where and how to cut.
“You’re creating a funnel for us to work from as opposed to us creating a funnel for you,” Lunn said. “We’ll do a lot of homework and research and put the final touches to it.”
What to save, what to cut
Queener said it is impossible to identify which areas the committee is leaning toward at this point since there are so many different perspectives and ideas floating around.
“There’s many varying opinions on the committee,” he said. “We have to reconcile some of those differences.”
Stillwater resident John Schultz, who voted in favor of the levy, said he decided to join the Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee in order to make sure some of the programs he feels are important are not lost.
“I wanted to make sure that when we do make cuts that it’s not affecting things that I like,” he said.
Additionally, Schultz said his small business background could help with identifying ways to do things differently.
One of the areas Schultz is fighting to spare from cuts is the remedial and recovery programs at the schools.
“I don’t want to see those things drop out the backside,” he said.
Schultz said he cannot comment on what areas are getting the most support for cuts since everything is still in the early stages.
“Everything is so conceptual, so I would hate to put anything out there that freaks people out,” he said. “We’re looking at everything – it’s not even close to being over.”
Schultz said he appreciates being able to voice his – and hear other – opinions through the community engagement process.
“It definitely affords everyone the change to have their voices heard,” he said.
However, Schultz said it is unfortunate the district has found itself in this situation.
“It is kind of disappointing,” he said. “I can’t why see any parent of any student wasn’t in support of things they wanted to do.
“I guess we’re doing the job that has to be done, but are we thrilled about it? No one wants to make cuts.”
Both Schultz and Queener said the process has been going fairly smoothly up to this point, however it is yet to be seen what kind of reaction the recommendations will get.
“When you cut such a substantial amount out of the budget how can you not take something away that someone thinks is important?” Schultz said.
The Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee is scheduled to have an additional three or four meetings before holding two community meetings on Jan. 17 and Jan. 24.
The committee is hoping to have a recommendation to the School Board by Feb. 2.
Queener said the budget process will be a difficult task, but one that needs to happen.
“These are incredibly difficult discussions,” he said. “None of us got in this business to pick things away from kids.”
For more information on District 834’s budget adjustment process visit www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/Bud