2013-03-14 / Front Page

School committee debates cuts

By Brenda Halvorson
General Manager

Keeping connections to students was an overriding theme as the Staples Motley Schools finance committee struggled with potential budget cuts.

The Mar. 6 meeting started with a review of the hard numbers but included the importance of maintaining relationships with students and the community.

Although no tenured staff were on the list to receive unrequested leaves of absence, some staff cuts and duty changes were included. One change would eliminate the activities director/dean of students position. Another change would cut the school social worker position at the Motley building to half time with the other half of that position assigned to Staples Elementary School.

“ Motley Elementary School and Motley Staples Middle School has one social worker between them,” said board member Barb Schmitt. “We are so short in this area. I have some concerns. I think we shouldn’t cut it.”

At present Staples

Elementary and the high school are sharing a social worker. High school principal Ryan Luft said a half time position was about right for his building.

Staples Elementary

Principal Jason Luksik said staff from Northern Pines Mental Health

Center serve students, but that they “can’t fill all the needs.”

Schmitt said she has also heard parent concerns at the high school for a counselor. “We could use more help in that area.”

At present, those duties are shared by Luft and

Penny Olsen.

“I also have problems with cutting the AD/dean of students,” Schmitt said. “Before Mike came, I know of a lot of work that wasn’t getting done. I heard concerns from the community.”

She was referring to

Mike Schmidt, who currently holds the job. She added later that she sees more participation with children and students and she attributed that to

Schmidt’s work.

If that position was cut, it was suggested that the dean of students and disciplinary duties could be reassigned to the high school prinicipal. The activities director duties could possibly be reasssigned to the community education director and his secretary/assistant.

“I think that’s a terrible fit,” said board member Mary Freeman, referring to the AD duties going to community education. “I wouldn’t support putting more on his plate when he’s not licensed for what he is doing. He has to finish that.”

Chris Etzler, the community education director, is in the process of earning his state licensure.

Freeman recalled the committment of the board to build a system that would have a principal in each building. “Principals will fail if we overload them. We need social workers and an activity director to support them or it will crumble around us.”

Board member Roy DiGiovanni agreed with the philosophy, but was concerned about the financing.

“We can’t add children. We can’t increase output like you can in a business. What’s going to happen in the long term?” he asked.

“I am more optimistic that we’ll get additional revenue, so I want us to be less aggressive in cutting staff,” Schmitt said.

“ One- to- one relationships keep kids in the high school building,” Freeman said, referring to the AD/dean of students, the clerical staff and the social worker and counselor jobs. “Every one in our district is important, not just the teachers. Every person affects children.”

Other cuts to reduce the deficit included adjusting some clerical positions, adding some secretarial hours to the Motley building nursing staff, eliminating one speech coach due to participation numbers and adjusting other coaching assignments to participation numbers as the opportunity arose, eliminate a foreign language advisor, position, reduce physical education by one- third because of lower participation in electives, enacting staff changes at the bus garage and in the custodial staff.

One major change is a temporary shift adding to

$143,000 of some technology and energy loan payments to capital outlay.

As had been determined at previous meetings, the board decided to work with a proposed budget deficit of $545,619. This budget option does not take into consideration any potential action on education funding by the state legislature.

It also doesn’t consider possible effects of a new charter high school, Connections High School, enrolling students now for opening this fall. Some questions remain on how the school will be governed and those answers will affect the ISD 2170 budget.

But the board and administration had to have a starting point and so chose a conservative route with no expense increases.

The finance committee asked the business manager to add about $85,000 to the budget - the additional amount the district could receive if Governor Dayton’s original budget is passed by the legislature.

That would reduce the proposed deficit to about $460,619.

They also asked that the social worker and the AD/dean of students positions be kept. Suggestions of other places to look to find savings in the budget included travel and purchased services.

The committee decided that two options for proposed cuts to meet the deficit be presented at the board’s Mar. 18 meeting - the original one discussed at the finance committee meeting and an alternate one reflecting the suggestions of the committee.

Final action on deficit reduction will not take place until the board’s April 15 meeting.

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