Cloquet School Board members wonder why cuts suggested for music programs, not sports

/ 16 March 2012 / jennifer

Jeff Papas, Carlton County Pine Journal, March 16, 2012 –

The Cloquet School Board received a list of potential 2012-13 budget reductions from administration at its Monday night meeting – and some weren’t received as well as others. The board will meet for a working session 5 p.m. March 22 to prioritize potential cuts.

Superintendent Ken Scarbrough’s goal is to trim $600,000 from the district’s anticipated $1.2 million shortfall for the coming year, but some potential program cuts were panned by board members.

  Proposed cuts

“We’ve seen every facet of programs hurting and hurting bad,” board member Jim Crowley said. “There are things I will vote against here (on the list of proposed cuts).”

On the list of potential cuts are the Family and Consumer Science (FACS) program ($34,000) and dropping from two band directors to one ($52,000) with elimination of student lessons.

However, the potential FACS cut drew a response from faculty and the potential music cut drew the ire of board member Sandy Crowley.

“I know that times are tough and decisions must be made, but can we afford to drop a program that prepares kids for the real future?” FACS faculty member Mary Jane Lundberg asked the board. “Now we have a .6 FTE (full-time equivalent) teacher and one very crowded classroom. We have done our part to balance many a budget.”

The potential band cut drew an even sharper reaction.

“If we eliminate one music position, you might as well take it all out,” Sandy Crowley said with regard to the band cut. “How can you have a concert without lessons? How do you do that? It’s not possible.”

Sandy Crowley also said she watched a television program over the weekend which discussed educational issues and quoted one panel member as saying “if you cut music before you cut football, and I’m speaking generally here, not specifically football, you should be recalled.”

Board members asked CHS Principal Warren Peterson and CMS Principal Tom Brenner about the rationale they used in the band cut.

“Music wasn’t an easy cut,” Peterson said. “To go deeper [with cuts] into math or social studies, it’s a triage situation. There was nothing Tom and I looked at lightly. Adjustments in courses are painful too.”

“We have one choir,” Brenner added. “I would have to cut classroom, and sections would increase to over 30 kids. I don’t know what else to do.”

The district eliminated the orchestra program last year.

Sports fees would also rise across the board under the proposal, with every sport going up by $35 for next year except for hockey, which would rise by an additional $50.

However, board members noted no sports were on the cut list.

“The cuts hit music, but we don’t have any sports there,” Jim Crowley said. “We’d get in trouble with the community.”

Scarbrough noted that when revenues and fees are added in to sports, the net cost is not as large.

“With the gate revenue and fees, it’s less than $100,000 with revenue included,” he said. “Our fees are definitely the highest in the area and are in line with some metro schools.”

The hockey activity fee would rise to $250 from $200 under the proposal, while football would rise from $170 to $205. All other sports would rise from $135 to $170.

However, board chair Gary Huard had another issue with the list.

“Where is the sacrifice from administration?” he asked. “I don’t know if they are sacrificing [under the proposed cuts]. Everything else is being hit.”

Jim Crowley floated the idea of not filling the pending vacancy at Washington School when Principal Randy Thudin retires at the end of the year.

“I get antsy with one principal for 1,000 students and two schools,” Scarbrough said.

Scarbrough noted that administrators had taken on additional responsibilities due to past budget cuts, but one commenter said the district doesn’t in fact face a budget crisis at all.

“I am not convinced that our schools have a budget problem,” fifth-grade teacher Carolyn Kedrowski said. “In six years, our school district has made over $4 million in the general fund. We are not in dire straits. We are not in statutory operating debt – not even close.”

Scarbrough said that cuts this year are needed to avoid the possibility of larger cuts in the future.

“The fund balance grew through what was in essence a federal bailout,” he said. “Our interest revenues are dropping, we may have to borrow to meet cash flow needs next year and we would pay interest on that. It is important, though painful and very stressful, to make budget reductions now. If we don’t, we’re looking at $2 or $3 million cuts in the future and a potential zero fund balance.”

The board will meet for a working session 5 p.m. March 22 to prioritize potential cuts.

In other actions, the board:

– Tabled a motion to declare a primary election for the three seats open on the board in November’s elections. State law says a primary must be held if double the number of candidates plus one file for the available seats. An initial motion to hold a primary election passed by 3-2, but was rescinded and tabled, again on a 3-2 vote, to allow absent board member Duane Buytaert to vote. A primary election would not cost the district any money.

– Assigned board members Dave Battaglia, Dan Danielson and Sandy Crowley to a subcommittee regarding investment options for the OPEB irrevocable trust. The district is considering a change in fund administrators.