Levy loss would mean teacher, program cuts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 3, 2001

t’s a familiar scenario to many communities in Minnesota.

Saturday, November 03, 2001

t’s a familiar scenario to many communities in Minnesota.

Email newsletter signup

An advisory committee is formed with community members for the purpose of identifying positions and programs for elimination. After several tense and emotional meetings, the committee brings its recommendations to the school board.

The board deliberates for several more tense meetings before the final budget is approved. Extracurricular programs and student services are cut. Perhaps a building is closed. Teachers and support staff lose their jobs.

The process just concluded in cities such as Rochester and Willmar. Both districts had to trim millions, and both are going to the voters for referendums to avoid even deeper cuts.

&uot;We’re aware that, as a board, we would be making huge decisions through the budget-cut process that would affect people’s lives,&uot; said Albert Lea school board member Ken Petersen. &uot;If the referendum does not pass, our jobs on the board get much more difficult.&uot;

&uot;We’ve tried to stay away from talking about specific programs and specific positions to be fair to our staff,&uot; said Superintendent David Prescott. &uot;But we would have to begin identifying a variety of cost savings for next year’s budget without a successful referendum.&uot;

As part of the drive to inform voters, the district has identified a list of school strong points that a successful referendum can preserve.

n Four elementary schools: Though the closure of an elementary school is on the horizon if enrollments continue to decline, Finance Director Mark Stotts said closing one in the next two years would be premature.

&uot;We have to wait until the enrollment is at a certain point before we could condense into three schools without sacrificing programs and services for needed space,&uot; he said.

n Class size ratios: Eliminating positions means fewer teachers per student and larger class sizes. In the primary grades, where the district has worked to keep class sizes under 24, the numbers would increase beyond the recommended levels.

&uot;There will be some kids who are less likely to get that individual attention they need,&uot; said Lakeview parent Sally Ehrhardt. &uot;More kids would slip through the cracks.&uot;

n Elementary specialists: Currently, each elementary has an art teacher, as well as physical education and music instructors. According to Lakeview sixth-grade teacher Sue Hanson, the specialists help provide support for her 30 students. &uot;It’s so nice to have these talented specialists in the schools to offer some variety and enrichment,&uot; she said.

n Secondary course electives: Special course offerings such as agri-science, journalism and foreign languages are excellent preparation for college-bound students. But without a referendum, all these programs are at risk.

n Athletic and extra-curricular activities: Probably the most visible aspect of the schools to the community at large, athletics, music and arts programs would probably be part of the budget cutting equation.

&uot;I don’t even want to think about it, but we’ve had to just in case,&uot; said Athletic Director Ross Williams. &uot;I would be one of the many people that would have to make cost-cutting recommendations.&uot;

n Administrators: Though the district already has many fewer administrators than other Big Nine schools, the board would probably have to look at trimming even more. &uot;We don’t have a middle school prinicipal – most districts do. And most of our administrators perform multiple roles,&uot; said Prescott.

With those possible cuts on the table, voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide the course of the district. A successful referendum, which would add $1.7 million in operating revenue next year, means no cuts or at least minimal cuts in the next five years.

&uot;We have to respect what the voters decide. We’re a public school system and these schools belong to the community,&uot; said Petersen.