District 834 approves budget cuts

/ 9 March 2012 / jennifer

Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin, March 09, 2012 –

After multiple meetings and months of discussions District 834 School Board finally cut its budget Thursday.

District 834 School Board approved $6.398 million in budget adjustments during its March 8 regular meeting at Stillwater City Hall.

“To see and approve this final list is heartbreaking,” Superintendent Corey Lunn said, “I don’t know how else to say it.

“I hope we can turn this difficult situation into a positive.”

The budget adjustments that were approved were presented by the district’s Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee, which held a total of eight meeting since this fall.

Over the past six months the 32-member BAAC, comprises of parents, staff and students, reviewed a list of over 200 items and narrowed the list down to 41 areas that could receive cuts for the 2012-2013 school year.

The areas fall under the categories of calendar adjustments, transportation, class sizes, co-curricular activities, staff reductions, supplies and materials, fees and revenue.

“What we tried to do was turn over every rock,” School Board member Mick Ptacek said.


The budget cuts

District 834 was previously tasked with cutting $10 million from its operating budget for next year after a levy request seeking additional funding failed in November.

The decrease in projected budget cuts stemmed from the discovery of a surplus of funds at the end of this school year as well as changes in the district’s borrowing and fund balances.

The first tier of cuts contains an already approved $2 million in cuts and an additional $2 million in one-time budget transfers.

The second tier of cuts, totaling, $2.3 million include: fee increases, staff reductions, class size increases, district department budget reductions and salary decreases for custodial staff.

The second tier also includes an increase in district advertising and a change in the district’s transportation model to increase efficiency.

The final tier of cuts, which totals $246,600, includes cutting special education positions, where allowed by law, and moving specialist sections from a 30-minute to 25-minute slot.


Parents stand up for Stonebridge

Throughout the budget process, one of the items that received considerable negative reaction from parents related to a line item that proposed to restructure Stonebridge Elementary, in Stillwater, in order to save $51,000.

Stonebridge Elementary is set up differently than other district elementary schools in that the school’s kindergarten and first grade classes function under a model which has students work with paraprofessionals, in smaller groups, for nearly of half of their day.

Several students and parents spoke during Thursday’s public comment portion of the meeting to address Stonebridge’s importance.

Stillwater City Hall was filled to capacity with attendants wearing “Standup for Stonebridge” buttons.

“The basic building blocks of our leadership skills came from the paraprofessionals,” said Collin Peters, a former Stonebridge Elementary student and current Stillwater Junior High student. “It was the paraprofessionals who set the students on a path to success.”

Several current Stonebridge Elementary students also addressed School Board.

“Why do you want to change our school,” said Stonebridge Elementary third grader Grace Gabriel. “We don’t want to lose our paras – the school would not be the same.

“Please believe in Stonebridge.”

Initially School Board had intended to restructure Stonebridge Elementary to mirror other district elementary schools. However, after several meetings, School Board ultimately compromised with parents to give the school to transition before restructuring the model.

However, School Board did cut the allocated $51,000 in funding to the school.


Budget process not done

Even though District 834 School Board did approve the $6.3 million in cuts, the budget process is far from over.

Over the next two years, District 834 could see additional shortfall and require additional cuts.

District 834 could still potentially see $8.5 million in cuts for the 2013-14 school year.

Additionally, if the district’s levy is not renewed in 2013, the district would have to cut an additional $14 million in cuts.

However, if the levy should be renewed at its maximum, District 834 would only face between $3 million and $4 million in cuts.

School Board members said they need parents to step up to prevent this from happening.

“We need you to keep that passion going,” School Board chairman George Dierberger said. “We’re going to need your help and support as we move forward.”

Lunn said he realizes that this entire budget process has been a difficult one for everyone involved and moving forward, the district will work hard to not be back in this place again.

“We’re going to keep looking for possible ways to reinvent our schools,” he said. “We’re going to work hard to regain your trust and get this turned around as best we can.”