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Cloquet School District projects $850,000 deficit

After projecting about a $850,000 budget deficit for the 2019-20 school year, Cloquet School District outlined a $628,300 budget reduction plan to help balance costs.

The district projected the "reasonable" worst case scenario deficit without knowing exactly how much money it will receive in the 2019-21 state budget cycle, Superintendent Michael Cary said. The Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives still need to finalize the upcoming budget.

"The Legislature really controls an overwhelming level of our funding," Cary said. "They're only talking increases that at best match inflation and many of them are nowhere near to matching inflation."

Working with principals and other administrators, Cary said they found instances where simple cost-saving could be implemented and cuts could occur naturally. For example, 2.45 full-time equivalent, or FTE, positions will be reduced.

This includes not rehiring for a secondary media center position after its vacated by an upcoming retirement, eliminating a fourth grade teacher position since next year's fourth-graders will be a smaller group of students and eliminating a music elective at the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program since few students have opted to take the class.

Fewer students enrolled in the German language program for the upcoming academic year, so that's one class the German teacher doesn't have to teach. Instead, the teacher will use that time to support the English Language Learner program. The School Board voted to terminate the current ELL program teacher, who had a 0.2 FTE teaching contract.

The board also approved the elimination of eight paraprofessional positions, as well as not rehiring for an upcoming vacancy, for a total of nine eliminated positions.

However, two positions will be added to the high school next year, meaning two terminated paraprofessionals would have the right to fill those positions, Cary said. That will leave the district with seven fewer paraprofessional positions next year.

Board member Gary Huard voted against the termination of the positions. Four other paraprofessionals will see reduced hours based on a decrease in anticipated needs. The district will save $150,500 in cuts to paraprofessional positions.

The district plans to save $100,000 in insurance costs and $20,000 in technology purchasing by self-installing Smart Boards and eliminating a certain software in favor of a cheaper option. The district will also save $160,000 next school year by adjusting its curriculum purchasing cycle.

Additionally, the board voted to terminate one full-time Title I teaching position based on the Minnesota Department of Education's recommendation to plan for a 15 percent decrease in Title I funding. Cary is hopeful that when the budget comes out the district will have more money than anticipated and can hire the position back.

More often than not, the worst-case scenario doesn't come to be, Cary said. He's confident that the $175,000 left between the amount reduced and the projected deficit will eliminate itself before the school year starts.

The state House has proposed a 3 percent increase to the per-pupil funding formula. Meanwhile, the state Senate has proposed a 0.5 percent increase, which wouldn't even match inflation.

"The revenue the state generates has been growing over recent bienia. We don't see inflationary increases when times are good. What does that say," Cary said. "I would really hope if education is important that we would see better than inflationary increases or at a minimum, inflationary increases to support the good things we do."

Andee Erickson

Andee Erickson has been a reporter with the Pine Journal since November 2018. She studied journalism and geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, while working at the Leader-Telegram newspaper on weekends. She graduated in 2018. Erickson's from southern Minnesota, but started viewing the north as home after interning for the Duluth News Tribune in the summer of 2017. 

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