Facing an estimated $1 million deficit next school year, the Cloquet School Board voted to cut two teaching positions at its regular meeting Monday, April 27.

The board also voted to eliminate 13 paraprofessional positions, four part-time custodial positions and one secretarial position because of the deficit, said Superintendent Michael Cary.

"Like any organization, we need to make sure we are living within our means and unfortunately that means we need to make reductions some time," Cary said.

Overall the board agreed to reduce a total of 3.6 teaching positions through retirements and resignations or layoffs. The changes result in around $650,000 in savings out of $700,000 needed for next school year and include reductions to the district's staffing and equipment budgets, he said.

The district leaves around $300,000 annually in the budget as a cushion, Cary said, and tends to estimate on the high side. Open enrollment can have an impact on the budget, and the administration is watching student numbers as several classrooms approach their maximum numbers.

Another expense that factors into the deficit includes health insurance. What the district pays for health care costs depends on usage, Cary said. District officials expect to spend more on employee health insurance for next school year.

"I think we can all see the gathering storm based on the COVID-19 crisis," said Ted Lammi board chair. "Schools and small businesses are straightjacketed by the need to provide health care insurance for people."

Officials also hired unexpected extra staff to meet new student needs this school year.

The district will adjust work loads to make due with less staff members.

Money may come in from the state due to COVID-19, but it is unknown how much or when, Cary said.

“We’re still operating a full kitchen and still delivering 1,000 meals a day ... but we’re not going to get the same state aid back," he said.

Cary told the board he is not sure what the pandemic's impact will come out to. The district is carrying a positive fund balance right now, but officials expect it to see it decline.

“Next year is not going to be pretty," he said.