Stillwater schools: pick your poisonDistrict 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn has previously warned parents that the $10 million in cuts that the district is faced with will be deep and severe. Parents received their first taste of how deep those cuts will go on Jan. 24.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn has previously warned parents that the $10 million in cuts that the district is faced with will be deep and severe. Parents received their first taste of how deep those cuts will go on Jan. 24.
More than 70 people were at Stillwater Junior High School last week for the four-hour meeting, to provide School Board members and district staff feedback on possible budget adjustments for the 2012-13 school year.
The session was the second of two public hearings where staff shared a draft of the 2012-13 budget adjustment recommendation put together by the district Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee (BAAC).
District 834 is tasked with cutting $10 million from its operating budget for next year after a levy request seeking additional funding failed in November.
“This is really a new person’s nightmare,” said District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn, who started in the district this summer.
School Board has already approved more than $2 million in budget adjustments for the current spring semester, but the district still must cut an additional $8 million by the fall semester.
“We have a long way to go and a lot more discussion that needs to take place,” Lunn said. “This is a great school district, but that does not come without cost.”
A proposal of priorities
To achieve the $10 million total, the board must draw from four areas prioritized by its impact on classrooms
The top priority is tier one, which is proposed to total $4 million. That includes the already approved $2 million in cuts and an additional $2 million related to accounting shifts.
The second tier, also proposed to total $4 million, includes a variety of cuts: staff reductions; decreasing the school calendar by two days; transportation changes; increasing fees; energy use reductions; decreasing building and department budget by 10 percent; restructuring of schools; and changes in school start and end times.
The third tier has what the BAAC deems the most impact on students. Of the $3.6 million encompassed among third-tier choices, the board must find $2 million in cuts.
Some of the possible cuts in tier three include: elimination of fifth and sixth grade band, decreasing specialist sections by five minutes; reduction of coaches and activity advisors; elimination of funding for junior high athletics; elimination of the option for ISD 916 career and vocational education; elimination of free all-day kindergarten and moving to a fee-based program; and requiring all seniors to take one less class.
“Whereas tier one and tier two are things that need to happen, tier three is things than can possibly happen,” Lunn said. “We have to figure out where that line will be drawn.”
The fourth and final tier outlines possible future cuts to enable District 834 to be in a better position in the future.
Some of those proposed future cuts include: moving secondary schools to a modified eight-period day; a reduction in elective classes; closing the pool at Oak-Land Junior High School; elimination of specialists; closing school for five days during the winter; decreasing the school year by three days; and increasing class sizes.
“I fully believe that we are going to end up in a better place than we are today,” Lunn said.
The public speaks out
During last Tuesday’s public hearing, attendees spoke on many of the proposed cuts such as the possibilities of reducing or eliminating paraprofessionals in some schools, a reduction in high school counselors and the possibility of eliminating the ISD 916 course offerings.
“The list of cuts is lengthy and sobering,” said Stillwater resident Nicole McBride, who spoke to saving the fifth and sixth grade music programs.
Four areas received the most comment: the elimination of the fifth and sixth grade music programs; the restructuring of Stonebridge Elementary; the elimination of one staff person from both Withrow and Marine elementary schools; and the elimination of the free all-day kindergarten program.
Cutting the fifth and sixth grade band and orchestra programs would result in nearly $200,000 in savings.
Several Stillwater Area High School students spoke during the meeting, urging School Board members to reconsider cutting the music programs.
Senior Lukah Wesloh spoke to the music department’s many accolades and attributed them to students starting music early.
“We have to learn the basics early to be successful,” he said. “If we cut the base off our music programs that would cause us to topple and I fear our music program would never recover.
“Music is just as important to us as sports are to athletes and math is to mathletes.”
Stillwater Area High School seniors Hailey Boner and Elizabeth Jensen echoed Wesloh’s sentiments, but also added that eliminating music would stunt students’ chances for expression.
“You are cutting one of the only gateways for youth to express themselves,” Jensen said.
“Cutting the music programs is not only a travesty but an injustice to the youth of today,” Boner said.
Another popular item during the public hearing included the restructuring of Stonebridge Elementary.
Currently Stonebridge functions under a multi-grade level model where students work primarily with paraprofessionals rather than teachers, and has students assigned to classrooms based on their abilities rather than their grade level.
The proposed budget adjustment would find $51,000 in savings by restructuing Stonebridge to reflect the models used by other elementary schools within the district.
“I believe in Stonebridge,” said Stillwater resident Mary Peters, who spoke in support of maintaining Stonebridge’s current model. “I know the children that leave there become leaders.”
Proposed elimination of the free all-day kindergarten program also drew much attention.
Currently District 834 is one of the few Minnesota school districts that offers an all-day kindergarten option for free.
If the program becomes fee-based, District 834 would see roughly $1.1 million in savings.
“I’m a supporter of that strong commitment to getting all our kids started early,” Stillwater resident Andrew Wait said. “I’m concerned about the ripple effect it will have if it becomes a fee-based program.”
The elimination of one staff person at both Withrow and Marine elementary schools also received impassioned comment.
Moving to the finish line
The budget adjustment proposals will be presented to District 834 School Board on Feb. 2 before being voted on March 8.
Lunn said he heard the public’s comments loud and clear, but he also wants them to know that if they chose to save one program, another program must be added in its place.
“Ultimately the board decides,” he said. “They can take it all, they can take none of it.
“I believe we have an exceptional product that we can have good discussions on and make good decisions.”