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Carlton school district backs away from staff cuts

A plan to lay off and cut the hours of Carlton teachers took some School Board members by surprise, one board member said Friday. "For me, it was a matter of, there hadn't been much discussion before these cuts were made," Ryan Schmidt said. "I w...

A plan to lay off and cut the hours of Carlton teachers took some School Board members by surprise, one board member said Friday.

"For me, it was a matter of, there hadn't been much discussion before these cuts were made," Ryan Schmidt said.

"I was never in favor of making those cuts."

When teachers, students and parents learned this week that the district planned to address a financial problem by trimming the teaching staff and increasing class sizes, their outrage prompted messages to the media, a student protest and a nearly four-hour-long special School Board meeting packed with concerned community members.

As a result, the school district backed away Thursday night from its recommendation to lay off three full-time teachers and reduce the hours of

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10 others.

Instead, the district will go to the voters in November with another referendum.

After a proposed referendum failed earlier this spring, the state Department of Education told the Carlton school district it had until mid-June to reduce the district's debt. But just-retired superintendent Scott Hoch never updated the debt plan after the referendum failed, district officials said. That forced the board to ask incoming Superintendent Peter Haapala to begin working early.

Only the finance committee members of the six-member School Board were aware that Haapala had formulated a plan over Memorial Day weekend

to erase the $350,000 budget shortfall through layoffs, Schmidt said, before meetings with the teachers Tuesday.

Schmidt said board members had thought that a statutory operating debt plan was in place, and they were surprised they had to take such quick action.

"He came into a tough situation," Schmidt said of Haapala, but the board had told the community in March it would not make further cuts this year.

"We made that commitment, and we need to stand by it," he said.

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But board member Peggy Keihn said at Thursday night's meeting, "The cuts cannot be put off for another year. We should have been doing this for the last three years slowly, and the impact wouldn't be so great."

The teachers union negotiator, Steve Therrien, said what Haapala did was unethical, and a decision like the one he made should have involved the input of more people.

"It doesn't make educational sense," he said. "When you're looking at education from a bottom-line perspective, as a bean counter, it makes sense. But in education, the human calculus has got to be factored in fairly heavily."

A call to Haapala Friday wasn't returned.

The teachers, who are without a contract, have a mediation session scheduled Monday. Therrien said the results of the meeting showed the district's willingness to work out the problem in a healthy way.

Both Schmidt and Therrien, an English teacher, hold out hope that the community will come together and vote for a referendum that would raise taxes. They said Thursday's meeting was also an indicator that the community cares.

"If it doesn't pass, we're looking at pretty serious problems," Therrien said, noting the same cuts and perhaps more may have to be made. "People had better decide whether they want a school, and what type of school they want."

The district has 583 students and the equivalent of 42.61 educators in grades K-12 in two schools. All of the cuts were to take place at the high school. Less than half of registered voters voted in April's referendum, Schmidt said.

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Fox 21 News reporter Nick LaFave contributed to this report.

Related Topics: CARLTONEDUCATION
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