Yellow Medicine East facing fiscal challenges; may cut programming, teachers

/ 11 April 2012 / jennifer

Kathy Velde, Granite Falls Advocate Tribune, April 11, 2012 –

The YME School Board passed a resolution discontinuing and reducing education programs and positions at Monday night’s board meeting after finance committee representative Jane Hagert gave a short report outlining the fiscal challenges facing YME in the 2012-2013 school year. Factors affecting the funding include declining enrollment, the loss of federal stimulus and jobs money and a reduction in compensatory revenue.

Declining enrollment will bring in $198,000 less in per pupil unit state aid. “We are projecting 806 students attending next year,” Superintendent Al Stoeckman shared with the board. The formula used by the state for per pupil units calculates out to $9,000 per student and with 22 less students, the loss of revenue comes to $198,000.

$200,000 in funding will disappear when federal stimulus dollars and jobs money ends. Stoeckman stated, “This was only a two-year program. We couldn’t bank the money, we couldn’t carry it past the two years. We had to spend the money by creating jobs. Now that money is no longer available.”

When explaining the $100,000 loss in compensatory revenue, Stoeckman said, “It’s a good news – bad news thing. We have had a reduction in the number of students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program – that’s the good news. With that reduction in the number of students there is a reduction in revenue – that’s the bad news.”

Total loss of revenue for 2012-2013 is $400,000. The process of identifying possible reductions in programs and positions began on February 13, with a resolution directing administration to make recommendations for possible cuts.

As Hagert showed board members budget reduction ideas for fiscal year 2012, she said, “This is a working document. It is important to remember that this is just the starting point.” Included among the ideas were reductions in administration, office staff time, paraprofessionals, reducing the 504 position to half time, cutting the American Indian liaison to 174 days (the same as the Hispanic liaison), non instructional cuts, and reductions in teaching/licensed personnel. The possible reductions total $411,800.

“There is no way around it, 75 percent to 80 percent of our budget is in salaries,” Hagert told the board and the citizens attending the board meeting. She went on to explain that the largest share of the reductions will come in the area of salaries. The proposed budget reductions include $260,000 in teaching and licensed personnel. “We need to take action tonight to notify these people that they may not have a job here next year.”

The personnel include two probationary elementary teachers, kindergarten teacher Kristina Blackwelder and third grade teacher Craig Mooney. Two probationary secondary teachers on the proposed cut list include English teacher Jodee Driggs and social studies teacher Chris Pappadakis. In addition to the probationary teachers two tenured staff members were identified: business teacher Darlys Listul, a 24-year veteran of YME, and high school counselor Val Skjefte. The two tenured staff members will not be terminated, rather they will be placed on unrequested leave of absence (ULA).

Once the possible reduction ideas were on the table, board member Steve Zumhofe asked what criteria was used to determine the proposed cuts, especially the cuts at the high school. Stoeckman shared that the reduction ideas came as a result of a process of talking with staff, administrators, parents, looking at class enrollment numbers and how neighboring districts are staffed.

Earlier in the meeting Listul had asked to speak to the board, not specifically about the possibility of being placed on ULA, but rather about the elimination of the business department at the high school. She stated that a few years ago the business department had three full time teachers and now she is the only one left in the department. In addition to business courses like economics, and accounting, the business teachers have traditionally taught the computer and technology courses. “I’m still in a shock mode that the plan is to eliminate the entire business department.”

“It’s my understanding that integration of technical skills, in the future, will be up to the classroom teachers. That it will be up to classroom teachers to deliver computer skills to students. Computer skills still need to be taught,” said Listul. Listul pointed out that classroom teachers already have “enough on their plate” teaching their own curriculum. She indicated that even though every teacher uses technology; that does not mean that they can teach technology skills. “It will be a huge mistake if business, computers and technology is eliminated.”

Zumhofe questioned how three English teachers or three social teachers could possibly teach over 400 high school students. Stoeckman pointed out that the proposed reductions also include $160,000 for part time teachers and superintendent add backs. “We don’t know yet, what our specific classroom needs will be for next year, that is why the $160,000 is in the proposal so we can bring back teachers and licensed staff half time or on partial contracts.”

Once all members were clear that the final budget would not be approved at the meeting, individual resolutions terminating the four probationary teachers and individual resolutions placing Listul and Skjefte on ULA were introduced.

Summarizing the process of coming up with proposed budget reductions, board member Tim Opdahl shared, “It’s a challenge that’s impersonal, when we start putting names in it, it becomes very personal. At the end of the day we need to do what’s best for the kids.”

The discussion on possible cuts continued after the regular board meeting during an impromptu work session that was held without a public notice. Superintendent Stoeckman informed this writer that he was asked by board members to investigate more office staff reductions and the possibility of increasing fees.

Action items:

In other business the board approved changing the way YME is identified in the Minnesota Department of Education School Directory. Currently, YME is identified with BRE as a PK-5 grade and the senior high as grades 6-12. The new listing will show BRE as PK-5, middle school grades 6-8 and high school grades 9 – 12. There will be no physical changes on the campus of the school; the only change will be in the MDE School Directory.

The board approved the first reading of the 100 series, 200 series, and 300 series school district policies.

Personnel items:

The board approved the retirement of Monica Kasel and leave requests for Pam Weber and Steve Koetter. The board approved hiring long term substitutes Barb Miller and Carrie Speh.

The next YME Board meeting will be held at 5:00 p.m. on May 5 at the YME Board room.