Nearly $312K in cuts approved by Wrenshall School Board
The third phase of budget reductions sees the school board eliminate four teaching positions and lay off the current business manager, bringing the total amount cut to $383,000.
WRENSHALL — A frank and open discussion from the Wrenshall School Board led to the district's latest round of budget cuts totaling $312,000, during a special board meeting on Tuesday, March 14.
The board decided to eliminate four teaching positions, some extra teaching assignments and to lay off the district's current business manager. Unlike the previous rounds, the reductions decided Tuesday will not come from retirements or resignations by staff.
The positions include a science teacher, an elementary guidance counselor, a tenured high school music teacher and a Minnesota multi-trend system of support paraprofessional. The extra teaching assignments, or sixth assignments, are extra classes that teachers get compensated for. The reductions to sixth assignments is an estimate, as the final cost will be determined by which teachers' sixth assignments get cut, officials said.
While the board voted to lay off business manager Angela Lind, board members said they would like to hire someone else for the position at a lower salary point. They did not know Tuesday whether they would fill the job internally or with an outside hire.
The reductions approved by the board are as follows:
- Science teacher: $33,354
- Elementary guidance counselor: $71,936
- Tenured high school music teacher: $71,930
- 8 sixth assignments: $30,000*
- Business manager: $80,020
- Minnesota multi-trend system of support paraprofessional: $24,150
Board member Mary Carlson said the reality of the matter is that the cuts needed to be made by the district a year ago.
"This, just frankly, sucks," she said. "There is a reason to keep every single thing that we are going to cut ... there is probably 15 really good reasons."
Board Chair Nicole Krisak started the discussion by pulling up a spreadsheet listing reductions board members had been in favor of. The cuts were chosen based off recommendations from each board member, as well as Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro and Lind.
The proposed reductions were ranked by the number of board members in support of them. The range went from six—meaning all in favor—to just one.
Board members were asked for their input on the list, Krisak said, which was generated before the meeting.
The board is aiming to make a net savings of $500,000 to balance its projected general fund deficit of $320,000, and also add a surplus of $100,000 to keep the district's finances healthy for the future.
The net savings is made up of not only cuts, but a projected increase in state revenue as well; however, district officials told the Cloquet Pine Journal that a specific figure was not currently available.
Each of the reductions received input from each board member before the vote was taken Tuesday.
How the board voted
Eliminating Lind was the only vote that was not unanimous by the board, with Misty Bergman and Alice Kloepfer voting against the decision. Both members voiced concerns about removing Lind as the district is working through major financial decisions.
Kloepfer said she didn't understand why the board would want to change the position now, since the district will also have a new superintendent next school year.
Board member Eric Ankrum said it was a decision purely down to the numbers, as officials believe they can hire someone at a lower salary to do the job. Lind's salary of $80,020 is higher than the state average for the position, Ankrum said.
Another topic of discussion was eliminating an elementary guidance counselor. Carlson said she knows the importance of having someone in the position, but again it comes down to the district saving money.
"I wish we could afford two of them," she said.
While the board approved the decision, board members said they were open to bringing the counselor back to a half-time position if the funds are available.
Three board members will head to the Minnesota Capitol on Monday, March 20, and Carlson said lobbying for funding to keep the guidance counselor is one of the topics she is going to bring up.
Reducing eight sixth assignments spurred discussion, as well.
Teachers in the district teach five classes, with each sixth assignment resulting in additional pay per teacher.
By removing some sixth assignments, Belcastro said the district could lose some electives, dependent on enrollment and how the master calendar shapes out. However, she added that with current enrollment at 339 students, some of the extra teaching assignments that were cut would have been additional sections that are no longer needed. The decision also does not eliminate any additional teaching positions from the district.
One option the board tabled was to eliminate the position of a non-tenured elementary teacher, whose salary is $57,227. Board members decided against it as the teacher is training to go into the district's career and technical education program next year.
Board member Ben Johnson said he was not fond of making the reduction as it would directly affect the students.
Other than keeping cuts away from students, Johnson said keeping the teacher for the CTE program will help to build it as a selling point for the district.
"We need to make that investment, otherwise we lose enrollment," he said.
As the teacher transitions to the CTE program, their salary would also have a 35% reimbursement rate from the state.
The board will pick up the discussion on its budget at its committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday, March 15, and its next regular board meeting on Monday.