Duluth School Board increases class sizes, reduces class offerings for 2012-13

/ 21 March 2012 / jennifer

Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune, March 21, 2012 –

Duluth school district classroom sizes are again set to grow larger with teaching ranks expected to shrink next school year after a Tuesday School Board vote that tentatively approved about $4 million in cuts to its 2013 budget.

That could mean between 25 and 30 jobs, Superintendent Bill Gronseth said.

The board, faced with making $3.8 million in cuts to its current budget, along with $1 million that was unexpectedly added last fall from an increase to per pupil funding and enrollment revenue, voted 6-1 to pass the district-proposed budget reductions and investments. Those ideas came with help from the public and staff, Gronseth said.

The biggest reductions come from eliminating a class period in the middle school day and increasing class sizes. Eliminating elementary specialists, which include library, art, music and physical education teachers, is no longer being proposed.

Reductions include:

Moving from seven class periods to six at Lincoln Park and Ordean East middle schools to save about $1.1 million, while maintaining the time spent at school

Increasing the student/teacher staffing ratio to save nearly $1 million

Cutting middle school music lesson teachers to save $180,000

Reducing special education service expenses to save $634,500

Eliminating courses to save $180,000

Realizing $126,000 in savings from the need for fewer intervention classes for at-risk students

A reduction in English as a second language staff for $45,000

Eliminating the teen parent program for $110,000, and a kindergarten program for $18,000

Limiting freshmen to six courses, with no zero-hour option, to save $90,000

Reduce administrative staff at schools to save $154,000

Cut out $82,000 from the technology budget

Maintain fewer buses to save $180,000 (school start times will remain the same)

Eliminate a business services position to save $64,200 (due to a retirement)

Eliminate legal counsel at board meetings to save $6,300

Revise an intervention program to save $90,000

The district will gain more than $200,000 in revenue, including from an enrollment adjustment. It probably will spend $400,000 on computer data storage.

After some debate over whether to keep a lobbyist at a cost of $70,000, board member Mary Cameron expressed disappointment that bigger-ticket items such as increased insurance costs and raised health insurance eligibility for employees weren’t on the table.

“I’m hoping to see some changes next year,” she said.

Gronseth said bargaining units were more open to the middle school change than to opening negotiations for benefits, but “everyone is well aware salaries and benefits are going to be a part of that conversation (next year) and there is an openness to that. For a lot of these items (that didn’t get proposed in the end) it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Class sizes were a major concern to board members. Bill Westholm said he recently studied Denfeld’s curriculum and course schedule.

“I looked at what we’re offering now and what would have to give,” he said. “Class sizes are too big now and they would increase. … You shrink the number of offerings you have and the number of sections, and there aren’t as many things for kids to take.”

Art Johnston asked the board to stop paying $4.5 million each year from the general fund to offset Red Plan debt. The move would raise taxes.

The Red Plan is a “sacred cow,” Johnston said, and students are suffering for it. If the board approved the move, it would raise taxes the same way an operating levy would, he said.

A few speakers from a new group, Duluth for Education, talked during the public comment period about the importance of the passage of an operating levy come fall.

“I don’t think we can keep cutting all of the time … pretty soon it turns from education into day care,” Joe Thibault said. “We’re willing as community members to do what we can: open our wallets a little bit and support the schools. Please ask us to do that. They are our kids and they are worth it.”

If an operating levy were to pass next November, it would help the district’s 2014 budget.

The board votes on a final 2013 budget in June.