Economic challenges equal cuts, closings in Robbinsdale School District

Wendy Erlien, Crystal-Robbinsdale Sun-Post, December 31, 2009 –

The beginning of 2009 brought tough decisions for the Robbinsdale School District 281 School Board and heartache for some district families.

As part of a budget reduction process for the 2009-2010 school year, the School Board decided to close three of the District 281 schools: Sunny Hollow Elementary in New Hope, Pilgrim Lane Elementary in Plymouth and Sandburg Middle School in Golden Valley. The closures saved the district $2 million annually, changed the school buildings and boundaries for hundreds of students.

Work on the transition began almost immediately under the leadership of former Superintendent Stan Mack. Mack retired from the district at the end of June.

Current Superintendent Aldo Sicoli was chosen by the School Board to replace Mack on July 1, signing a three year contract.

“The logistics of the closures went very well for the start of school and the transition for students,” Sicoli said. “For the community, of course, it was difficult – it is any time you close schools.”

Looking to 2010, Sicoli said “virtually every district” is seeing funding as its major future challenge.

Many of the area school districts have been faced budget cuts within recent history. Anoka Hennepin School District 11 will have multiple school closures before the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Several schools in the Osseo School District were closed, buildings repurposed and many staff members were laid off before the 2008-2009 school year.

“Fortunately, we passed the levy referendum last year [2008] and this was the first school year that the district received that revenue,” he said. “We were able to lower class sizes and build up a small fund balance.”

Without changes in state funding for next year, he said the district’s expenditures are projected to exceed revenues.

“It looks like budget reductions, cuts are in our near future,” Sicoli said. “If nothing changes in the next few years – we know the state has a big challenge on its hands – if we don’t get some unexpected revenue, we are looking at some very significant cuts in the next few years.”

There are no specific areas targeted for potential budget cuts, but with 80 percent of the district’s expenses personnel costs, Sicoli said it would be “pretty hard” to do significant cuts without looking at staff, which could increase class sizes.

“I’m not looking forward to this and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to maintain our classes,” he said.

For community members wondering how they can help the Robbinsdale School District, Sicoli suggested one way would be to contact their state representatives.

“Education is extremely important to the state,” he said. “When the state has done well economically is when it has been investing in education. Not just parents, but others, can make it known that education is important and it should be make a priority.”

“The Minnesota Miracle that is out there is long overdue.”

http://www.mnsun.com/articles/2010/01/04/news/rs31educationyir.txt

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