Board to look beyond band, family sciences for cuts

/ 25 March 2012 / jennifer

Janelle Verke, Pine Journal, March 25, 2012 –

Cloquet School Board members rethought some cuts during a working session Thursday evening. The Board will vote on the cuts at its Monday evening meeting.

After proposing nearly $600,000 in cuts to the Cloquet School District’s budget to help balance a $1.2 million deficit, many members of the community spoke out in letters and phone calls to school board members. Of greatest concern were cuts to the band and Family & Consumer Science programs.

Howard and Elaine Vargason wrote to Superintendent Ken Scarbrough in support of the high school band. They have three grandchildren involved in the program. “The training that comes from being in the high school band has lasting benefits,” the letter stated. “The knowledge of musical instruments, music literacy, the sense of teamwork and pride are with these students throughout their lives. Please reconsider the reduction of our band program. This is an integral part of our children’s growth and education and without it we will be much less of a school and the school pride will diminish greatly.”

Board members also received a letter from Marilyn Gilchrist, who stated she felt strongly that elective course offerings such as Family & Consumer Science classes, were of major benefit to students. “I strongly feel that electives for our students in this area are very worthwhile and are used throughout their life,” Gilchrist stated. “Not all students are college-bound and we certainly have seen an increase in our advanced classes over the years. Our average students, not taking advanced classes or music, need to have some learning electives and not have two to three study halls to waste their time.”

To start off a special meeting of the school board on Thursday, March 22, two motions were made and passed to remove cuts to the band and Family & Consumer Sciences programs from the list. Together, the programs would have gotten the district $86,000 closer to balancing the deficit.

Scarbrough suggested $20,000 in cuts to staff development, which put the total amount of cuts to the budget at $574,690—very close to the board’s $600,000 goal.

Board member Sandy Crowley said she remained concerned about cuts to staff, as that would lead to increased class sizes. The grade in question is grade 5, which would go from 25-28 students per class to 31-35 students per class in 2012-13 at Washington Elementary. Principal Randy Thudin said one option would be to force some families to move their children to Churchill Elementary in an attempt to even out class sizes and keep them somewhat smaller.

In a letter to the board, members of the Washington Elementary Partners in Education group stated they are concerned about how cuts will affect their children.

“Not only is it hard to fit that many kids in a classroom, but those in the back of the room have difficulty seeing and participating in the lessons. Larger class sizes would also result in fewer computers available, less 1:1 time, more pressure on testing, and less of a chance of being prepared for the demands of the middle school,” the letter stated. “Our children will suffer emotionally, behaviorally and academically in class sizes that large.”

Scarbrough suggested raising the class sizes in the middle and high schools by lowering the number of periods in a day. However, he stated doing so would limit options and opportunities for students.

Since the original proposal was made two weeks ago there have been people who have asked why the district isn’t looking at cuts to athletic programs. Scarbrough presented board members and community members with figures showing the costs and revenues from sports, including participation fees and gate fees. In the end, cutting athletic programs isn’t a profitable solution for the district. Once participation fees are raised for next year many of them will close the gap between the cost and revenue even further.

When discussion was opened up to those in attendance at the meeting, board members were questioned about the $300,000 cost of all day, every day kindergarten.

“What about the cost of all day every day kindergarten?” Jim Tomhave asked. “I would encourage you to think about that. It seems expensive. It looks to me like the program costs the district about five teachers.”

With the state not funding all day, every day kindergarten programs like other programs, the cost is all on the district. Prior to the 2011-12 school year the program was offered for a fee, placing the cost on families who chose to pay it. However, board member Duane Buytaert defended the program stating, “The importance of the program is that it gives all kids the option. There are people in Cloquet who cannot afford it. We feel it is important enough to offer the program to all students.”

Board member Dave Battaglia said he was happy with the cuts where they stood once the band and Family & Consumer Sciences programs taken off the list. “With this list, we are close to $600,000. I’m comfortable this.”

Scarbrough closed the meeting by stating that the board has a lot to think about over the next few days. During the board meeting on Monday, March 26, the board is expected to vote on final cuts.