Board votes for more teachersThe battle lines between budget and class size changed once again at Monday’s Cloquet School Board meeting, when the board voted to approve approximately $162,000 in new expenditures for teaching positions in the coming year’s budget.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The battle lines between budget and class size changed once again at Monday’s Cloquet School Board meeting, when the board voted to approve approximately $162,000 in new expenditures for teaching positions in the coming year’s budget.
In March, the board trimmed $514,690 from operating budgets for the 2012-13 school year. But on Monday, a series of resolutions restored some of the cut money through the authorization of new positions to reduce class sizes – and more of the savings may go away as well due to other considerations.
“Our board has always felt very strongly about maintaining reasonable class sizes and I know they want to do that for as long as they can,” Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. “We appreciate that passion for learning. I am hoping that the state budget will turn around and [the Legislature] will be able to support education the way it needs to be supported in our state.”
The board voted 5-1 to hire a full-time position for developmental kindergarten as well as teachers in first, second, third and fifth grades along with two full-time Title One positions at Churchill School. The third- and fifth-grade teachers are over and above the authorized positions previously discussed with the board in budget estimates.
The net increase of two positions is expected to add approximately $132,000 to expenditures for next year, according to Scarbrough.
“The numbers [for class sizes] are looking high,” he said. “If the legislature doesn’t do something [with regard to funding], we will have 30 kids per class. There’s no way around it, unless the state wants to put as much effort into education as they do into stadiums.”
The size of the average fifth-grade section in Cloquet elementary schools would have exceeded 30 students per section next year had the vote not passed. Adding a fifth-grade teacher will drop the average class size to about 26 pupils per section, slightly larger than for this year. Third-grade sections are expected to average 23 students per classroom with the new position added.
Jim Crowley cast the dissenting vote on the elementary hires, but all board members were concerned about meeting new state mandates for reading literacy that will come on line next year.
This discussion, which centered on the concern that larger class sizes would make the mandates harder to meet, led to an unsuccessful motion by board member Sandy Crowley to add a first-grade section next year as well, reducing the number of students in each class from 24.1 to approximately 21 at an added expense of about $55,000.
“I’m uncomfortable with an average of 24 [students], especially if we are dealing with literacy requirements by the third grade,” she said. Churchill principal David Wangen agreed. Yet, her motion was defeated 4-2, with Jim Crowley joining in support and all other members voting nay.
Despite the vote’s failure, administration was directed to explore options for moving the Kids’ Corner program at Washington School if the board wished to reconsider and add another first-grade section later. Any new section would need to be placed at Washington School due to space considerations and would force the district to relocate the Kids’ Corner program.
Three other significant staffing expenditure votes were also made, with only one receiving unanimous support. This was to re-post the high school assistant principal position currently held by incoming Washington School Principal Connie Hyde. The board voted to post this position as a .7 full-time equivalent, with half-time going to the high school and .2 going to the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program, where Hyde presently serves as principal.
Hyde herself had recommended that the high school vice principal position, on its own, be no less than a .7 FTE position to assist with discipline issues at the school. Currently Hyde’s time is split three ways between a grant position, CAAEP and the high school, which receives half her time.
The board also voted, on the recommendation of staff and CHS Principal Warren Peterson, to add an additional .6 FTE math teacher to avoid cutting high school math programs. This position, which would cost approximately $30,000 in added expenditures, passed by a 4-2 vote, with Sandy Crowley and Dan Danielson in opposition.
Even a vote setting summer custodial hours didn’t receive unanimous support, with board chair Gary Huard standing in opposition. No significant changes from a year ago were contained in that schedule.
Scarbrough also said that negotiations with Cloquet Transit regarding savings on bus transportation due to changes in the school schedule have indicated that anticipated savings there may not be fully realized.
“We have concerns about the transportation estimates,” Scarbrough said. “We estimated savings there at approximately $45,000.” Scarbrough said Tuesday that the net savings could be as low as $11,000, meaning a potential $34,000 decrease in anticipated savings.
In total, Monday’s votes combined with the transportation issue means that just under $200,000 of the district’s anticipated savings for next year may not be realized. Adding a first-grade section would likely boost that total to approximately $250,000.
In addition, Scarbrough also said the district may face upward pressure on next year’s budget due to potentially increased costs for property and liability insurance, which may range as high as $30,000.
However, there was good news for the district in the open enrollment report presented by Scarbrough. He noted that 291 students within the district chose to enroll at other schools, while 319 students from outside the district were coming in, representing a net increase in enrollment.
The board also heard from Wangen that enrollment for kindergarten in the fall presently stands at 166 pupils, with more expected over the summer. This figure is higher than initially projected from kindergarten roundup but a lower total than last year.