Stillwater Area School Board Approves $6.3 Million in Budget Adjustments
“This is a painful process,” Stillwater Area School Board Member Mike Ptacek said before a vote that closed the deficit with a combination of cuts, plans to increase revenue and the one-time opportunity for the district to transfer funds.
The School Board approved a list of budget reductions for the 2012-2013 school year to make up for a $6.3 million budget shortfall.
After prioritizing more than 200 ideas gathered from the community and staff, the board unanimously solidified an eight-month process by approving a final list 41 items that will be adjusted to close the deficit.
“This is a painful process,” School Board Member Mike Ptacek said before a vote that closed the deficit with a combination of cuts, plans to increase revenue and the one-time opportunity for the district to transfer funds.
Some of the reductions include:
- Cutting as many as 20 staff positions across the district. Those cuts will include clerical and support staff at both Central Services and in several school buildings, an elementary assistant principal, paraprofessionals, custodians and teachers.
- The district will save more than $240,000 by restructuring the Central Services Office.
- School start and end times will change for all district schools—as well as charter and non-public schools within district boundaries—in order to save nearly $300,000 in transportation costs.
- Class sizes in many classrooms in grades 4-6 will increase as a result of teacher reductions, which will save the district about $70,000.
- Two less days of school next year will save more than $82,000 in transportation and staffing costs.
- Student activities and sports fees for students in grades 8-12 will increase by an average of $50 more.
- High school parking permits will increase by $30 more.
- Students who choose to enroll in College in the Schools courses will pay an average cost of $50 per class.
- Usage fees will increase for community groups to rent auditoriums and swimming pools.
- Staffing at Stonebridge Elementary will be consistent with other elementary schools for a total saving of at least $51,000.
“To hear and see this is heart-breaking,” Superintendent Corey Lunn said. “I don’t know how else to say it. But our work is not done, far from it. We need to work together… We are going to work to regain your trust and get this turned around the best we can.”
Standing By Stonebridge
Advocates for Stonebridge Elementary School showed up as they have throughout the budget adjustment process to support the teachers, paraprofessionals, principal and 40-year-old, alternative-teaching model at Stonebridge.
The group asked the board to consider changing the language in the final proposal to read: “eliminate additional funding to Stonebridge Elementary;” and to allow one year to research the strengths of the current model and investigate alternative staffing options.
The group sent an open letter to School Board members earlier this week.
According to a letter responding to parents of Stonebridge just days later, the school will be given one year to transition from the colony model.
“While we appreciate the gesture, we can’t stand by and watch this happen,” Bruce Bell-Myers, a spokesperson for the group said. “We agree the model needs to be more cost efficient, but we believe it can still work. We would like the next year to prove that to you.”
Many parents chose Stonebridge because of the colony model, Bell-Myers said. “No other school has been singled out the way Stonebridge has in this process.”
“You now offered up a year of transition, and while we appreciate the concession, it’s not enough,” he said. “It’s not enough, because when it’s done … Stonebridge won’t be Stonebridge anymore.”
The budget adjustment means Stonebridge will be staffed consistent with the district’s other elementary schools, School Board Member Natasha Fleischman clarified during Thursday’s meeting.
The staffing allocation refers to the cost reduction, she said. Not a mandate of what program needs to exist at Stonebridge.
Board Reacts to Budget Adjustments
After hearing the final budget-adjustment proposal, the Stillwater Area School Board members each took a few minutes to talk about the process.
“Unfortunately we’re here because of what is happening at the Capitol right now,” Board Member Natalie Fedie said. “We need that same passion (as Stonebridge parents showed at the meeting) and energy to represent our needs up there.”
Fedie urged the public to form a district-wide Political Action Committee and bring the budget-impact stories school board members have heard in recent months to the state legislature.
Preliminary budget forecasts show the district will need to make as much as $8.5 million in cuts for 2013-2014 and another $14 million in reductions would be necessary if a levy renewal is not approved by November 2013.
“We’re going to be here again,” Fedie said. “We’re not going to let this school district fail.”
Board Member Tom Lehmann agreed, and said he believes the budget adjustment process, albeit painful, worked.
The decisions that were made followed a list of guiding principles, two of which were to provide equity among schools and make decisions based on research and best practices, he said.
“This isn’t easy. This isn’t fun. This isn’t what we want to be doing,” Lehmann said. “The way the legislature funds schools is inequitable, not fair and puts us in this position.”
District officials will now have to work hard to explain to the voting public why the school districts need levies—and “unfortunately why we have to continue to go out and ask for them,” Lehmann said.
Kathy Buchholz knows a little bit about that up-hill climb.
She has been actively involved in three levy efforts for the Stillwater Area School District, and watched two of the requests fail.
“The one that passed took an army of parents out there fighting for their schools,” Buchholz said. “These are your schools. These are the schools you want for your children. We’ve worked really hard to maintain the current programs we offer in this school district.”
But after the three questions were voted down last year, tough decisions had to be made.
“It’s only going to get more difficult for public schools,” Buchholz said. “At some point we are going to have to go out for a levy and we’re going to need parental support.”
Equity remains a challenge in the district, Board Chair George Dierberger said. And to provide equity, the public’s support is needed.
“Things aren’t going to get easier,” he said. “This fall is going to be a horrible general election with a number of controversial issues on the ballot. If we decide to go out we will need all the parents—literally 90 percent will have to vote if we have any chance at all at passing a levy.”