School board hears plans for $1.2M in reductions

Published 6:25 am Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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Albert Lea’s superintendent on Monday identified plans for more than $1.2 million in budget reductions and efficiencies for the 2024-25 school year.

Superintendent Ron Wagner said as the recommendations were made, administration focused on students first, followed by staff and then the community.

“Decisions need to stay away as far from students as possible,” Wagner said.

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The changes are being made as the school board strives for a 12% fund balance and battles declining enrollment.

The following is an overview of the changes recommended:

Office of superintendent

Under the office of the superintendent, Wagner said there would be position reductions and realignments totaling about $260,000.

Later in the meeting the board voted 6-1 to discontinue one full-time administrator from the Administrative Association and then in a separate 4-3 vote approved a resolution placing Assistant Albert Lea High School Principal Nicole Severtson on an unrequested leave of absence without pay or benefits effective June 30. Board members said Severtson will shift to a different position in the teacher’s union.

Board member Angie Hoffman pointed out that the decision was not due to any fault of the employee and said from her understanding it was a formality to transfer her to a new bargaining unit.

Hoffman said she was concerned with the district approving the leave of absence and that the individual would go a month and a half without pay or benefits before being able to begin in her new role.

“It seems a little cruel to me to do it this way,” she said, noting she had concerns about why it was happening and said there was some history about the employee she has not been able to get.

Board member Dave Klatt said while he agrees with cost-cutting measures, he thought this cut was “a little close to the students.”

He said he wished a reduction could have been made for a position that didn’t have as much student contact.

School board Chairwoman Kim Nelson reminded the board that it had charged administration to look for efficiencies and reductions based off of what would impact students the least.

Board member Neal Skaar said it was a matter of income versus expenses as there are fewer students in the district.

Board member Davy Villarreal voted against discontinuing the position, and Hoffman, Klatt and Villarreal voted against placing Severtson on unrequested leave of absence.

Finance, operations and safety

Wagner said there would be a net cost savings of $12,000 to move the Area Learning Center back to Brookside because of the lost lease from Head Start, which moved to the former Streater building.

The district would also discontinue its ALICE software and use the RAPTOR system for a savings of $4,000.

Other reductions and realignments of about $74,000 were identified through the Business Office for a total of about $90,000 in that category.

Human resources

The district is expected to save an estimated $559,000 with the reduction of five elementary positions and two secondary positions to align staffing to enrollment.

Wagner said the reductions in positions would be through retirement, resignations or non renewals. He noted the district needs to align staffing to the current student enrollment so the funding gap does not continue.

Career technology and innovation

Wagner said there would be a realignment totaling about $93,000 in this category, though he did not offer specifics.

Special services

Wagner said there would be realignment in this area for building support at about $110,000.

Academics and accountability

In this category, Wagner said administration would like to bring the online learning program back to Albert Lea versus contracting out, which could save about $125,000.

The district is seeing a significant drop in the online academy students, with only 23 students currently signed up, said Jennifer Walsh, executive director of finance, operations and safety. The district is already purchasing the software for the program.

Board member Neal Skaar said at the high school that could translate to several different teachers with all of the different subjects.

Wagner said there are teachers who will be able to absorb the students into their schedules, and he could provide more of an update on what that would look like at a future time. The district will offer online learning for seventh through 12th grades.

Board member Gary Schindler asked if the teachers with the online students would need additional professional development for the role, and Tonya Franks, executive director of Academics & Accountability, said that would be the intention to build that out for them.

Skaar said he thought the online academy was a good way to draw in students from other districts that may not have the opportunity.

Other reductions include reducing secondary mailings for a savings of about $8,600 and bringing targeted service coordination back central for a savings of about $12,000.

The board did not vote on the overall recommendations Monday, but Walsh said they would be part of the overall budget the board approves in June.