Faribault School Board makes decision on budget cuts

/ 26 March 2012 / jennifer

Allison Roorda, Faribault Daily News, March 26, 2012 –

The discussion was ongoing, but in the end the Faribault Public School Board took it in chunks.

Items one through 41 of the list of budget adjustments for the 2012-13 school year went through and were approved for a total of $1,321,223 in cuts.

 Proposed cuts

In the interest of running smoothly through the list of 45 items, the board looked at entire sections of items on the list of budget cuts at a time. The first 29 items were cuts that the board had decided to keep on the list after a lengthy discussion at the March 12 regular board meeting. Included among these items were a number of increases in activity fees, a restructuring of the special services department that would allow special education students to remain in the district for services and trading a testing coordinator position for an English Language Learners/Curriculum Coordinator.

Two items also included in the first slew of discussion were the additional funds of $350,000 from the general fund and $549,000 from the district Separation/Severance Fund to offset the needed costs.

“I’m not happy about taking money from the general fund,” said board member Tom Casper. “But I think it’s a rational and reasonable decision. Looking at what kind of cuts we had on the list, it was unacceptable to me not to dip into the reserve or not to look this one time at the retirement fund.”

After the 29 items that the board had confirmed came items that were either new to the list of cuts or items that the board had left open for discussion after the previous board meeting. The board went through the items, which included two additions for ELL teachers, one at the middle school and one at the high school. Principals Troy Prigge at Faribault Middle School and Lyle Turtle at Faribault High School have requested the positions due to an increase in ELL students at the schools.

“If I’m greedy I want to keep the ELL teacher you gave me and I want to keep the para,” Turtle said. “We’ve got a really good teacher in there right now, hopefully we can keep them.”

The school board then started discussion on harder topics, like the Auto Services program at FHS. At the last board meeting, several members of the community came forward to urge board members to keep the program. School board chair Jason Engbrecht noted the number of students in the program has been on the decline in recent years.

“Personally what I would want is not to cut this at all, but I think we need to ask ourselves what are we going to do to keep this vital and going,” he said.

Board members suggested marketing the program better or making it accessible to more students. Turtle said one solution could be changing the high school schedule.

“We’ve got to get away from this six-period schedule. It doesn’t work,” Turtle said. “There aren’t enough hours in the day for kids to take that kind of programming.”

In the end, the school board felt it had enough options to take the reduction in the Auto Services program off the list of budget cuts. The board also discussed the three literacy coaches at the elementary schools. Interim Director of Curriculum Joann Ostrom spoke to the board about what the literacy coaches brought to the district.

“I’d like to mention what a great literacy plan we have in place,” she said. “Our plan addresses almost every issue from the state initiative.”

Ostrom also said there was the possibility of changing the structure of the literacy coach position somewhat. The literacy coaches would dedicate half their time to coaching and training teachers in the Reader’s Workshop program as part of Faribault’s five-year literacy plan. The other half of their time would be working directly with students, either co-teaching in the classroom or spending time in intervention with students who need extra help.

“I’m in favor of keeping all three,” Engbrecht said. “I don’t think long-term we can sustain all three, but I think we’re still in the beginning stages of implementing this. I don’t want to risk putting a wrench in that given that we’ve already met the goal.”

Eventually the board stuck with the first 41 items on the list of budget cuts, a list that passed 6-1, with Richard Olson voting against.

Allison Roorda covers education in Rice County. She may be reached at 333-3132. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonRoorda