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Final Town Hall Meeting Tonight: What's at Stake Without Levy Renewal?

If the expiring $11 million levy is not renewed, Stillwater Area School District officials say it could mean cutting more than 50 teaching positions, eliminate free, all-day kindergarten and restructuring or closing one of the district’s elementary scho

An operating levy that provides $11 million to Stillwater area schools each year expires in 2014 — and without a renewal of the levy, school officials say the district will lose nearly 20 percent of its annual revenue.

So what does that mean?

Well, according to district officials, it could mean cutting more than 50 teaching positions, eliminate free, all-day kindergarten and restructuring or closing one of the district’s elementary schools.

It could also mean eliminating 5-6 grade band and orchestra programs, reducting the number of electives in junior high, fewer gifted and talented programs, eliminating transportation for all students living within two miles of school and cutting security from the high school and school resources officers at the middle schools.

School officials will discuss impact of the expiring levy during the second of two Town Hall meetings on Wednesday, Feb. 20 from 6-8 p.m. at Stillwater Junior High.

Click here to see a draft list of budget reductions that could be implemented for the 2014-2015 school year.

If the levy is not renewed, an $11 million shortfall would come on the heels of $6.4 million in cuts this year and $22 million in cuts over the past 12 years.

Stillwater school officials anticipate an additional $4-$6 million annual shortfall as a result of flat state funding, inflation and rising costs.

The public will have an opportunity to provide feedback on the possible budget cuts prior to the school board approving a list on March 7.

The following list, provided by the Stillwater Area School District, shows how the levy dollars have been spent, and outlines what the impact would be if this levy was not in place.

Class Size makes up 32 percent of the cuts ($3,478,785)

  • Eliminate as many as 50 teachers, which would significantly increase the number of students in a classroom from 4 to 6 students in elementary schools, and 5-8 students at the secondary schools (scheduling issues could raise the number as high as 12 additional students in some secondary classes)
  • Reduce the use of teacher and paraprofessional substitutes by 10 percent as a result of fewer teachers

Student Programming makes up 24 percent of the cuts ($2,624,990)

  • Eliminate free all day, every day kindergarten (the state provides funding for half day kindergarten, fees would be charged to parents to continue to provide a full day option)
  • Restructure and/or close an elementary school
  • Eliminate 5th and 6th grade band and orchestra (reduction of five teachers)
  • Reduce an elective choice for junior high students and replace with a mandatory study hall
  • Shorten media, vocal music and physical education time at the elementary schools
  • Reduce coordination of gifted and talented program

Learning Interventions make up 12 percent of the cuts ($1,285,798)

  • Eliminate as many as 25 student support positions, including paraprofessionals, reading specialists, Special Education teachers, principals, assistant principals, administrators, counselors, nurses, clerical staff
  • Reduce opportunities and support for struggling students
  • Reduce coordination of student testing and assessment, and support services for students and families
  • Eliminate school-based alternatives to out-of-school suspension

Facility and Operations make up 8 percent of cuts ($912,208)

  • Eliminate as many as 15 custodians and groundskeepers
  • Close Oak-Land Junior High swimming pool
  • Increase electrical efficiencies beyond current measures (ie. parking lots and outdoor lighting)
  • Reduce cleaning and supply budgets

Learning Environment makes up 6 percent of cuts ($680,178)

  • Reduce the number of days students are in school and/or implement a four day week
  • Adjust building temperatures (66 degrees during the winter, 79 degrees during the summer)

Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development make up 5 percent of cuts ($647,506)

  • Reduce budget to implement strategic plan initiatives, and purchase new curriculum, classroom supplies and materials, and replacement materials for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses
  • Delay curriculum and technology purchases
  • Reduce curriculum and technology support staff and/or charge capital budget as possible
  • Reduce professional development and training opportunities for staff

General Administrative Services makes up 5 percent of cuts ($602,543)

  • Increase chargebacks to Community Education and Food Service budgets, which would lead to increased fees for school age care, enrichment classes, school lunches, etc.
  • Reduce services, equipment and other business functions of the district: including auditing, communications, professional memberships, training, hiring
  • Reduce support staff and/or reorganize departments at Central Services

Transportation makes up 3 percent of the cuts ($306,463)

  • Eliminate transportation for all students (grades K-12) living within two miles of their school, with no special considerations for hazardous conditions (highways, railroad tracks, etc.) or fee for service options. This will result in earlier bus pick up times and later drop off times for all students.
  • Eliminate transportation for students attending St. Croix Valley Area Learning Center
  • Transportation changes would also impact charter and non-public students

Activities makes up 3 percent of the cuts ($275,054)

  • Eliminate funding for 7th and 8th grade athletics
  • Eliminate athletics supply budgets, resulting in more fund-raising through booster clubs, etc.
  • Increase fees at the high school (athletic fee increases up to $95 per sport, concert ticket prices, etc.)
  • Reduce the number of junior high and high school clubs and reduce activity budgets

Security makes up 2 percent of the cuts ($190,000)

  • Eliminate contract for private security at Stillwater Area High School
  • Eliminate contracts for school resource officers at both junior highs
tax payer February 20, 2013 at 01:55 PM
All county property owners, regardless of having children in the school, already pay a significant portion of their taxes toward the schools. Additional monies (levy) should be a user fee........ Here is a letter written in response to an article by Joe Soucheray in the St. Paul Pioneer Press..... Quit your whining Joe Soucherary. Here is a real levy request, the Stillwater school district 834, offered up last Fall. The district already has a levy representing 996.00 per student. And you are complaining about a mere 646.00 per student. Get with it......... Levy 1) A seven year operating levy of $1,465 per student to replace our existing levy ($996.00)and continue to ensure 2) A seven year capital projects levy to raise approximately $115 per student 3) An $18.3 million building bond
Jerry Colburn February 20, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Another tax payer The Stillwater community needs to support the district as a whole. Not more user fees. More fees will restrict some students from being able to participate. Let's get off our wallets and invest in the children of this community. It's a well documented fact that strong schools make for a better community for ALL.
tax payer February 20, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Is not a "levy" a "fee"? Those that participate in the school, should pay the extra (levy) - All property owners, and MN taxpayers, already pay what is expected to operate the school.....You want more - get off your wallet - dont volunteer mine. I already gave.
Jerry Colburn February 20, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Another tax payer No, levy and fees are two entirely different forms of funding. I've opened my wallet for several years now by paying for Catholic school tuition and also taxes to the public system. The current funding is not enough to 'operate' the schools effectively. The levy would close the gap for what is needed to maintain and advance our schools in the future. All I'm saying is that we will ALL see the benefits.
tax payer February 20, 2013 at 07:12 PM
State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, September 12, 2011 -(just prior to 834's last insane request for $1,465.00 per student Garofalo is reminding those districts that they just received a significant increase in funding from the state, including a $50 boost in the per-pupil formula. "When you're making these additional expenditures at the statewide level, the property tax is not to be used to go back for a second bite of the apple," he said. Garofalo said he plans to be very vocal about the districts he believes are "abusing the process" when it comes to levy votes. 834 needs to operate inside its budget. Figure it out, or get Corey Lunn to camp out at the Capital till he gets the money. Quit throwing more of the county monies into rhetoric, propaganda, scare tactics and advertising.... levy - Definition: A tax levy is a fee that each property owner must pay annually in order to fund the town's activities. Often for short duration to pay for specific purchase(s). The tax is a percentage of the value of all homes and privately-owned land. The only properties affected are those inside the town or city limits. Read more: The Definition of a Tax Levy | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_5748126_definition-municipal-tax-levy.html#ixzz2LSyi9l3X
tax payer February 20, 2013 at 09:06 PM
I know I am obsessing over the levy - one more example.... Some years ago, when Jesse Ventura was governor, there was a state surplus that Ventura planned to return to the people. There was an outcry from those that wanted a new Twins stadium. Ventura said fine and set up an account for all those that chose to give the refund toward the stadium - You know how many contributed? "ONE PERSON" - Do the math on the levy - all the "users" want "everyone" to pay or they wont pay either. Even when they directly benefit from it - I think we (District 834) Should set up the account at a local bank and watch the coffers fill...........
Another taxs payer February 21, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Regarding transportation - I believe school busing, regardless of location, should be operated on a user fee basis. People know where schools are located when they buy the houses they live in. Why should all tax payers be responsible for getting your children to school when you choose to live in the areas you choose. This should include all students - regular students, special needs students, and those students going to alternative learning schools.
Jerry Colburn February 21, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Support our schools, support our community, support the children of our community. Vote 'YES' for the levy.
tax payer February 21, 2013 at 05:07 PM
I am for setting up an account at a local bank for those that want a levy. That way you can give all you want and can. Probably get more than you wanted - While your at it - get rid to the county libraries - divert those monies to the schools and have people use the school libraries - no one reads books anymore. Problem solved.
Margaret T. February 21, 2013 at 07:02 PM
It's unfortunate the article only covers the Cost Center portion of the Town Hall discussion without also linking to or providing information about the Strategic Plan portion of the event, which provided a picture of the mission and direction the school district has mapped out with input from community members over the past several months. Those details are online here, including a .pdf of the plan itself (via the link below the video) that was shared at the Town Hall meetings. - http://www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/district/strategic-road-map Knowing what may be cut should be considered side-by-side with data about other recent cuts, where the existing levy $$ are allocated, and what goals the District wants to meet in the near term. The District extended an open invitation to participate in either the Cost Center conversations, the Strategic Planning process, or both. Paying attention to the district communication and actual local numbers, plus showing up at the meetings or seeking out the resources provided afterward all strike me as more effective than anonymous exchanges online.
tax payer February 21, 2013 at 07:49 PM
Margaret T. Interesting that you allege the "Anonymous exchange" is ineffective, when you yourself remain so.... That said, I have lived in District 834 for 30 years. You folks that embrace throwing money at the school, feel its "UnAmerican" to not support a levy. Like spitting on the flag or something. To that end, the most recent levy was the highest legal limit that the state would authorize ($1465.00 per student - how insane is that). What is even more troubling, is that your vote "for" a levy, authorizes not only "your" money, but "mine" too - This is not for a one time expenditure - 834 has made it a way of doing business. Set up a local bank account, put your money in it, and call it a levy...
Margaret T. February 21, 2013 at 08:01 PM
I have used my real name. And while you may also be a tax payer, you've chosen to hide yourself completely. I have not suggested that money be 'thrown' at anything, nor said anything about voting for or against anything -- at this point, a levy question has yet to be approved or defined, let alone have a dollar amount attached to it. A competitive school district -- competitive in context of neighboring districts, in context of elsewhere in the Metro, and in context of this State compared to other States -- is a key factor in whether people choose to live here or remain here over time. It has an impact on property values and perceived community value, and is documented as a major factor in people's decisions to settle in one location over another. So you experience both the costs and the benefits of that asset and its condition, regardless of whether you currently send children to school. The data in the accompanying .pdf details where ISD834 stands relative to what other district levies look like. Moreover, 90% of Minnesota schools are operating with a levy while State dollars have stagnated and been borrowed from schools to balance the budget. It's too soon to comment on a particular levy proposal because no proposal has been defined at this point.
North Hill Dude February 22, 2013 at 12:22 PM
Interesting meeting the other night on this topic. The meeting kicked off with the new strategic plan then went into the $11M. When asked about enrollment Corey Lunn said generally over the last 8 yrs it has fallen by ~200 per year. A graph of per pupil $ showed 834 in the $900 range while Minnetonka was higher than the state cap. Many people were quite concerned about the difference even though he said our test scores were comparable. The district website states salaries and benefits are $0.77 per dollar spent, yet that is not one of the list of "cuts" Based on comments most in attendance would gladly throw as much magic tax payer money as they could at a new levy. Also stated they should ask for more than $11M. Corey said there was 3 possible questions that could be on the list. High school football and hockey were also mentioned to get more attention. When asked if employees contribute to any benefits like the private sector, I heard the oft used we're overworked and underpaid comment from the teacher and facilitator (district employee) at our table. I also heard "Thank God this isn't Wisconsin" Corey said they cross reference the list of parents from the entire list of voters to find out who and how many voted. It was also mentioned that we can't let our best teachers be cut yet there is no way for residents to know who "they" are. There was outright lobbying for a pro levy group. All in all exactly what I expected, and I know how tax payer feels. $100,000,000 budget WOW!
tax payer February 22, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Thanks.........Interesting in that the last levy request was for 1465.00 - the present levy is 996.00 - both of which are near double the average (if any) levy...good info

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