Officials will meet to talk budget cuts at study session

/ 27 March 2012 / jennifer

Derek Sullivan, Owatonna People’s Press, March 27, 2012 –

OWATONNA — Before the Owatonna school board votes on budget cuts aimed at several departments, including music, it will conduct a study session with district administrators.

The board will get together at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Roosevelt Community School in Owatonna for a study session about budget cuts totaling at least $1.8 million. The public can attend the study session, but unlike traditional school board meetings, there will be no public forum.

The vote on budget cuts is planned for sometime in early April.

The school board currently is scheduled to meet next on April 9, but Owatonna superintendent Tom Tapper said the meeting likely will be postponed. Several school board members, including chair Don McCann, will not be available on April 9.

To prepare for an eventual vote, the board members will ask questions of district administrators on Wednesday night in order to get a better understanding of the proposal.

The study session was requested by Tapper after dozens of residents questioned the proposed cut of 1.0 FTE (full-time equivalent) from the Owatonna music program and the elimination of the district’s long-time gifted and talented program. Initially, the board was slated to vote on the recommended cuts on March 26, but Tapper felt the board members could use more time to study the proposal.

Over the past two weeks, Tapper and his administrative staff also have gone back to the drawing board and looked at the previous budget cut recommendations.

The administration’s initial proposal called for the elimination of 2.5 (FTE) staff members from the gifted and talented program. Tapper has said he believes the district’s implementation of an inquiry and leadership program will be able to replace the current gifted and talented program.

At both the Feb. 27 and March 12 school board meeting, residents praised the school’s music program. Students, parents and music fans worried that cutting the music staff would harm the school’s musical tradition.

The administration’s 35-page proposal — put together by district staff and first presented to the public on Feb. 27 — is meant to cut $1.8 million from the school district’s budget, thereby minimizing deficit spending.

In the original proposal, Tapper recommended that the board lay off 6.5 full-time equivalent teaching positions and 14 district-wide specialists. He also recommended reducing the 2012-2013 school year by eight days, with those days becoming staff development days. On March 12, the board approved a reduction of six days for staff development.

Tapper said that the training will be necessary with the district adding new initiatives, such as STEM at McKinley, K-8 Explorations and an inquiry program. In all, his initial proposal could have cut about $2 million from the 2012 budget.