[Zumbrota-Mazeppa] Schools face staff cuts; concerns and alternatives were presented March 12

/ 20 March 2012 / jennifer

Rebecca Aaland, Zumbrota News-Record, March 20, 2012 –

ZUMBROTA – At the Zumbrota-Mazeppa School Board meeting on March 12 Superintendent Tony Simons proposed a plan to cut $360,643.17 of budget cuts for the fiscal year of 2012-13. The largest cuts would be certified and non-certified staff at the school which would amount to $297,443.17. Positions listed as possible cuts are a full-time elementary teacher, a social worker, a 7-12 speech and language clinician, a full-time maintenance personnel, and secretarial positions.

Chairman Brian Grudem said the school is in this position because, “State school funding has been flat for the past few years and the state shift of funds really have put the school in a bind.”

Simons said, “We want to propose cuts that will have the least harm to students. About five or so years ago schools had a surplus in their fund balance but had to start to spend their fund balance in order to pay operating expenses. Monthly expenses are $580,000 and we have taken out a loan of $1.3 million to pay for expenses the rest of this year. We will most likely have to borrow money next year and I have been put in an unfortunate role to advise on cuts and I would appreciate any input from staff as well as the community.”

Simons said the school has had to spend their reserves and have overspent about a quarter of a million dollars this past year. Grudem added, “We need to, like we do for our personal home finances, create a budget where we are not deficit spending.”

ZM teacher Willie Rauen asked the board to think about alternatives to cutting staff, such as cutting the budget for supplies and materials or upping the fees for extra-curricular activities. Structural changes, such as having a four-day school week with a longer school day, may cut expenses. Another idea would be to combine the middle school with the high school and house the elementary school in Mazeppa.

Grudem said, “These are good suggestions that we should definitely look in to and have given me a lot more questions to ask Tony [Superintendent Simons].”

Board member James Wendt brought up the referendum that was passed three years ago. He said, “I knew at the time the amount we asked for was not enough, but, at the time, we asked for the maximum we thought would pass the referendum. At the time we projected that the state would give us the money owed and that things would get better. We didn’t know it would keep getting worse.”

Board member Marie Josselyn added, “The other issue is the all-day, every-day kindergarten program we implemented. The state is funding only 68% and this is hurting us financially.”

Minnesota is one of about a dozen states without extra funding for full-day programs. However, Minnesota does fund half-day kindergarten. Board member Stephen Rosenthal said, “This district would be financially better if everyone would call their state representative and encourage them to fund all-day, every day kindergarten.”

People in attendance also vocalized why they think the positions listed are vital for the students to get the best possible education at Zumbrota-Mazeppa School.

Jean Roth, a speech and language clinician, said, “Cutting special education positions, such as mine, will cause more work for those teachers that are still employed. I know that the state looks at caseloads, and currently we have 76 students for two speech clinicians, one at the elementary school and myself at the middle and high schools. If you cut one position that is a huge amount of a work for one person. How will the school be able to service the students adequately? The school cannot ethically or legally cut service time to the students who are eligible for special education services.”

Superintendent Simons said, “I asked an outside agency to make the decision about the positions we should cut. I did not arbitrarily pick positions; I had these people who know the laws better than I do advise me.”

Language arts teacher Amy Matuska said, “The high school has had several cuts in the past and I am concerned whether we are doing what is best for the students if we lose the reading component and an English teacher. If we cut the half-time English teacher, what will the class sizes look like since there will not even be two English teachers? Currently there are three English teachers and two of them are part-time.”

Grudem thanked those who attended for voicing their concerns and ideas. He said, “We have a lot more questions that need to be answered and discussions that need to be done before we make our decision on budget cuts.”

Superintendent Simons encouraged the staff and the public to contact him with ideas or discussions on this matter. He added, “I want this process to be as transparent as possible and would appreciate people to come to me with their ideas.”

The next school board meeting will be on March 26 at 7 p.m. at the ZM Middle School Media Center in Mazeppa. The school board may schedule another special meeting about the budget in April.