Cloquet School Board finalizes budget cutsThe Cloquet School Board approved just over $514,000 in budget cuts for the 2012-13 school year at its Monday meeting.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet School Board approved just over $514,000 in budget cuts for the 2012-13 school year at its Monday meeting.
Two weeks ago, board members were presented with approximately $600,000 in proposed cuts but that original list was amended at a special meeting March 22 – and amended again at Monday’s meeting.
The cuts passed by the board do not affect the band program nor the Family and Consumer Science (FACS) program. Both had been part of the original cut list, with band going from two teachers to one and the FACS program eliminated altogether. Both programs will now remain in their current form.
FACS teacher Sue Hagberg said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning that she and her students were “happy to be back,” noting that was the third time in four years the FACS program has been on the chopping block.
“Our [FACS] classes take the things the kids learn in English, Science and Math, and we make it practical,” she said, adding that there is enough interest for 12 FACS classes next year, but only six are offered. “They study genetics in science, but in Child Studies they research a childhood disability and may work with kids who are affected by that disability. And cooking class really is food experiments, plus they’re doing math all the time with the measuring and doubling of recipes.”
While band and FACS were saved – for the 2012/2013 school year – the board did find other ways to address the budget shortfall. An amended list generated at the March 22 special meeting (See “District hears from public”) raised the amount of proposed cuts in teacher development from $20,000 to $40,000 and added $19,000 to estimates in savings generated by district retirements.
Cloquet High School Principal Warren Peterson expressed relief that the band and FACS programs had been spared, but the longtime administrator wasn’t exactly jumping for joy, noting that the district has reached the point of “triage” with budget cuts [after close to a decade of decreased state funding].
Class size was also a concern, particularly in the elementary grades. On Monday, the board voted to remove a line from the cut sheet regarding increasing of class sizes, though it reserved the right to revisit that line in the future.
Board members expressed concern that fifth-grade class sizes might rise to more than 30 students per section next year and asked administration to provide additional information.
“We would need to add a section of fifth-graders next year to keep the average class size under 30,” board member Sandy Crowley said.
That revision brought the total estimated cuts for next year to $514,690 – just short of halfway to erasing the district’s anticipated $1.2 million shortfall next year.
The fifth-grade classes weren’t the only ones up for debate. Discussion at Monday’s meeting also centered around the reduction of first-grade sections next year from nine in this year’s kindergarten class to eight in next fall’s first-grade classes. The shifting has raised the possibility of some students being moved between the two elementary schools next year.
The issue won’t be revisited until after the coming roundup meetings.
“It’s possible we might realize savings if the number of kindergarten students is up,” Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. That would increase the district’s per-pupil allotment from the state and indirectly ease the financial burden.
In other actions, board members voted down a resolution to hold a primary election for three open seats on the board on a 3-3 tie vote. Board members Jim and Sandy Crowley joined Duane Buytaert in voting against a primary, with Dave Battaglia joining Dan Danielson and board chair Gary Huard in voting for it.
Carlton County Auditor/Recorder Paul Gassert said the vote means that all candidates for the board this fall will advance directly to the general election.
The board will also consider three new policy changes in the coming weeks. The first will pertain to how the district will handle parent requests for specific teachers for their children. The second will pertain to conflict resolution when students must handle scheduling conflicts between extracurricular activities and other activities such as non-sanctioned competitions and vacations. The third will pertain to finding an official definition of the term ‘fund balance’.
“We have a lot of numbers being used,” Buytaert said. “It would be good to have a formal definition.”
Pine Journal Editor Jana Peterson contributed to this story.