New Stillwater school levy will wait until at least 2013

/ 3 May 2012 / jennifer

Julie Kink, St. Croix Valley Press, May 3, 2012 –

Political climate postpones ballot question

STILLWATER — It will probably be 2013 before area voters see another school levy proposal on the ballot.

Citing the “toxic political climate” expected to cloud the 2012 elections, the majority of Stillwater School Board members said during a meeting last week they prefer to wait until next year to bring a levy proposal to voters.

Noting the budget adjustment process that began right after the failure of last fall’s levy proposals, board member Natalie Fedie said the board still needs to prove itself to voters.

“I think the community is looking at us saying ‘What are they going to do, are they being fiscally responsible?’ I think we need until 2013 to build that community trust,” she said.

Tom Lehmann, who was on the Budget Adjustment Advisory Committee and the Finance Advisory Committee which met to develop budget estimates, said analysts told the board the message should have been clearer. “Experts are telling us in this political climate, in this election, your message will not get out there,” he noted.

Board members George Hoeppner, Kathy Buchholz and Natasha Fleischman expressed similar concerns; with two controversial amendments and a presidential election on the ballot in 2012, a levy proposal could be overshadowed by other issues.

Board Chairman George Dierberger and board member Mike Ptacek disagreed, saying the board should go out for a levy in 2012.

“I would like us to be proactive rather than reactive,” Ptacek commented. “”Even if we held the levy right now and it was successful, we’re still playing catch-up.”

The numbers are in on the district’s estimated 2013-2014 budget shortfall: $2.2 million to $4.7 million.

Assistant Superintendent of Business & Administrative Services Ray Queener presented results of a study by a 13-member committee charged with reviewing assumptions for enrollment projections, budget adjustments, revenues and expenditures. The committee came up with a “moderate best case scenario” and a “moderate worst case scenario” based on cost increases, salaries, enrollment, anticipated state funding and several other factors. The range represents variables that the district does not control, Dierberger pointed out.

In other business, after a presentation on a recommendation for a new literacy curriculum to meet rigorous new state standards, the board decided to postpone action. The recommendation to adopt a specific curriculum reading series for grades K through 5, and another for grades 6 through 9, didn’t sit well with board member Hoeppner.

A longtime English teacher for the district, Hoeppner said he had sought extensive feedback from teachers and other professionals and found research and opinion overwhelmingly against “purchased curriculum.”

“Choice fosters motivation, and motivated readers read more,” he said. “We’ve got a large amount of research that says use of a series like this may not be the best way to go. I don’t want to make a mistake knowing that it could be eight years (until a new curriculum is adopted) before we get the chance to revisit this.”

Other board members agreed, adding that the decision should be delayed at least until a to-be-selected media specialist is in place to give input. The estimated cost for the curriculum would be $876,000 for grades K through 12.

Kruse Rudolph said next year students will be expected to show proficiency in the new standards. If the board opts not to purchase the recommended curriculum, she added, “then we need to truly invest in staff development and give our teachers, who are the experts and who have that knowledge, the time to gather and create the resources to support students who need the differentiated instruction. That takes time and it takes money.”

In other action, the board:

• Voted on 2012-2013 employee benefit insurance renewals with the district self-funding plans beginning July 1, saving several hundred dollars in administrative costs

• Approved the release of probationary teachers, including those hired under one year only contracts, and paraprofessionals including those who do not have job rights due to serving less than two years in the district.

Earlier in the meeting, FFA student members Elise Dittmann and Emilee Plautz recapped the Stillwater chapter members’ successes and achievements as part of the program, which involves more than 540,000 members nationally.

Superintendent Corey Lunn invited Stillwater senior Peter Winslow to describe his experiences traveling to France with the Team USA Power Soccer Team last November. Winslow, who uses a power wheelchair, said he has been playing power soccer for the past seven or eight years. The team won a Gold Medal and World Cup. It included players from Indianapolis, California, New York and Florida. Winslow said next year he will attend the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, majoring in a communications field.