School board outlines budget cuts

/ 28 March 2012 / jennifer

Derek Sullivan, Owatonna People’s Press, March 28, 2012 –

OWATONNA — For three hours Wednesday night, Owatonna school board members, principals and other district officials crammed around a rectangular table with one major goal in mind — to discuss potential cuts to district’s budget.

The district intends on trimming $1.8 million from its 2012-2013 budget with the vote on the cuts slated to be made on April 11.

On Tuesday night, board members got updated budget recommendations from the administrative officials. On Wednesday, those cuts were discussed.

However, some, perhaps many, of the cuts discussed Wednesday night may never happen, said Owatonna school superintendent Tom Tapper. For example, the district says it could save $220,000 by conducting six days of staff development training during normal school hours, leaving students at home, rather than during the summer when teachers would have to be paid.

But such an arrangement would have to be approved by the teachers union, the Owatonna Education Association — something which the district is still awaiting and something that might never happen. Tapper said he was hoping the teachers would have approved the proposal by now.

“We have to assume since we have not heard from the OEA that it won’t be there,” Tapper said. “There will have to be additional reductions.”

As Wednesday’s meeting closed, Tapper informed the board members that he doesn’t expect the OEA to vote on the new school calendar until after the April 11 meeting. The board members will vote on cuts with the assumption that the OEA will not approve the six fewer school days. If the OEA does eventually improve the shortened school year, Tapper feels confident that some staff members will be reinstated at the Owatonna schools.

“We are hoping they would support it because it does make a difference,” Tapper said.

The updated recommendations were good news for some departments and bad news for others. District administrators, led by Tapper, are no longer asking for the elimination of the gifted and talented program. Currently, three staff members work with gifted and talented students. If the school board approves the district administrators’ updated recommendations, 1.5 FTEs (full-time equivalents) will be cut, but 1.0 FTE will remain to coordinate the program.

The newest set of recommendation did include more staff cuts, including an additional one at the elementary level and the Owatonna Junior High School. If the budget cuts are approved, OJHS will let go one FTE from the language arts department and eliminate a part-time dean of students position. At the high school level, four FTEs will be let go.

McKinley Elementary School principal Bob Olson represented the elementary principals at the meeting. He discussed how staff cuts would increase class sizes to more than 30 students in several grades.

“We are going to be sitting with higher classes,” Olson said.

OHS principal Don Johnson said the expected staff cuts at the high school would increase the minimum number of students needed to run an elective and the number of study halls.

“We will see an increase in classes, but not a spike,” Johnson said. “We will have more students than ever before in study halls.”

As more and more students need to take study halls and are unable to take certain electives, Johnson believes the era of OHS students graduating with 32 credits may be coming to an end. OHS students need 28 credits to graduate.

OHS department coordinator positions will now be eliminated. Each department has a teacher who is partly responsible for the department’s budget and curriculum. The coordinators are paid according to size of department.

The high school also could lose a counselor to budget cuts. Currently, OHS, with four counselors, has a ratio of roughly 370 students to a counselor, greater than the national average of 250 to 300 students per counselor. If OHS does drop from four counselors to three, each counselor would be looking after nearly 500 students.

Staff cuts are expected to save the district $723,500. The other $1.1 million in cuts will come from cuts to district support services, vocational education instruction, special education instruction, community education, instructional support services, pupil support services and sites and building budget.

The April 11 meeting will be a rare Wednesday night meeting for the school board. The meeting was scheduled for that evening — at 6:30 p.m. — because several board members were unavailable on April 9, the regularly scheduled day for a meeting. As with the Feb. 27 and March 12 meetings, the April 11 meeting will take place at Owatonna Junior High School.

Derek Sullivan can be reached at 444-2372.