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Residents React to Impacts on Stillwater Schools if Levy Fails: 'This List Stinks'

Stillwater Area School District officials told concerned residents this week if the $11 million levy is not renewed in November, budget cuts will hit the classroom.

It may be an off-year election, but there’s going to be a lot at stake for Stillwater schools when voters head to the polls this November.

An operating levy that provides $11 million to Stillwater area schools each year expires in 2014.

That — coupled with $22 million in cuts over the past 12 years and an expected $4-6 million shortfall as a result of flat state funding and rising costs — means the school district stands to lose nearly 20 percent of its annual revenue.

When that happens, budget cuts hit the classroom — and that was the greatest concern expressed by about 100 parents who attended two Town Hall meetings this week at the district's junior high schools.

In three words one resident summed up what many attending the meetings were thinking: “This list stinks.”

“In the past we’ve tried very, very hard to keep cuts away from students, but with an $11 million levy expiring there just isn’t enough to cut in other areas,” Community Engagement Coordinator Carissa Keister told the School Board on Thursday night.

Class sizes, student programming and learning interventions were clearly the biggest concerns for those attending the town hall meetings.

Residents questioned what losing music programs, all-day kindergarten and elective courses would mean for the district —and expressed concern that cuts to learning interventions would create bigger gaps between successful learners and those who are struggling.

Other talkers were the possibility of a four-day school week, general safety if school resource officers or security contracts are cut, transportation and ability to retain quality staff members in the midst of budget cuts.

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

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“As residents learned more about the new strategic plan, there was a lot of excitement about it, but concern that we may not be able to actually implement our plan fully if we don’t have the resources,” Keister said.

Residents told school officials they should continue to increase efficiencies across the district and evaluate employee compensation and benefits.

Community members also suggested the district increase its grant writing, utilize volunteers to help in the classroom, sell ad space on school resources and reduce the number of extra-curricular offerings at the high school.

Residents also encouraged the district to look at enrollment numbers, and depending on what is found, consider restructuring or closing a school.

Discussions about charging a fee for all-day kindergarten were prevalent, as were concerns about how the district communicates information to the public.

The school district has a lot of work to do, Superintendent Corey Lunn said. It will be important to get information out to voters, so people know the issues and understand what is at stake for Stillwater schools.

A scientific survey will be sent out to about 500 district residents in the coming weeks to give the School Board an idea of what the community may be willing to support before drafting the questions for a levy request.

The School Board will meet for an all-day workshop on March 2 (open to the public) and will approve a list of potential cuts if the levy isn’t renewed during their March 7 meeting.

A levy decision will be made by the Board on April 11.

“Last time we did this, we did not have the list of reductions. We didn’t have an idea if we were going to ask for more money, and what we were trying to do. We were trying to do this in July—and we came within one percent," Lunn said. "By the way, only 40 percent of our parents voted.

“Now, we’ve got this," he continued. You know what there is to lose, and how your money was invested. We’re going to tell you how we’re going to grow, and we’re starting in April, so we have time to our community’s parents about what we value in our schools.”

Irving February 25, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Why do teachers need a masters degree, and why should they be paid more because they have one? $48K with a couple weeks off for the holidays and summers free is a pretty astounding wage, especially when coupled with an amazing benefits package.
Irving February 25, 2013 at 05:58 PM
I tried to read all the comments and I apologize if someone else already made this point. Personal experience says that you can't swing a stuffed giraffe without hitting a teacher wanting to find work. If we dropped teacher and staff wages enough to balance the budget, would any teachers quit? I really doubt it, and if any did we'd likely be able to replace them easily. I really like the teachers my children have had, and I have a great deal of respect for them, but that doesn't mean they are exempt from the same forces that have caused many other people to take reduced wages. Realistically, increasing the tax I pay is reducing my wage, so it's pretty obvious someone is going to have to take a pay cut...
Jerry Colburn February 25, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Brent, that was very well stated. My feelings exactly. This was the most sensible statement by far!
Randy Marsh February 25, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Well said, Irving. I also think my kids have had wonderful teachers in this district to date. I just can't rationalize the salary and benefit increases the union milks out of the school district each year when the district also claims their funding remains flat or decreases each year. If the district expects us to buy that rhetoric, the only safe assumption is to assume they are idiots for willingly increasing the largest portion of their budget (salaries) each year. So which is it, the district being dishonest or gutless cowards getting bullied by the union?
Common Sense February 25, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Mr. Pentland should perhaps tread carefully as a "safe" (and seemingly reckless) mouthpiece for his spouse, a long time teacher in District 834, who has everything to gain by maintaining the "status quo". Taxpayers have the right to get information and to expect District leadership to look at all avenues for leaning out bloated, weak, or outdated practices, facilities, staffing and staffing leave policies in a short work year, and to deliver a quality education for students within the District's means.
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 09:45 PM
yes My wife Michelle has been a long time teacher here in this district ameks more sense how? I pay taxes here JUST like you do, so aside form the constant jealous ranting that people on here do, who don't think that people who have Masters degrees (which most do) or worked very hard with time, talent, money and dedication (when they didn't) deserve to make a decent living, just out of curiosity how many "tax" payers commenting and bad mouthing teachers for being over the top rich and greedy (gag) even own homes here???
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 09:48 PM
No, there is only one Pentland that I know of a 26 year veteran of the school system here who deserves what she has worked for like so many others, maybe we should attack your buisness for paying you too much money??? funny, all of you who voted for Obama don't seem to care about him taking your money, share the wealth huh?
Randy Marsh February 25, 2013 at 09:48 PM
I believe they actually work about 190 days out of the year, Irving, which is more than 50 less than most.
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 09:49 PM
replace them with what???? they already tried to pass a thing where anyone with a college degree could pretty much be a "teacher" really?? I have three of them, I would make the worlds WORST teacher, how come no one here is crying about the 150K plus the superintendant makes? out of curiosity
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Also, for the record, as I use my real name and not hide behind south park characters or other things, I do NOT think that there needs to be a salary or benefit increase in this district, it would be silly to think that with all the things going on with the economy that any increase in taxes should go to an increase in wages, what I think is, any money attained now should simply go to the schools themselves, NOT to wage increases, that is not needed (in case anyone thought I was barkign for wage increases I think they are more than good, more than great where they currently are)
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 09:53 PM
AND I am telling you, the technology (don't go into that stupid laptop fiasco thing again) needs to be upgraded, it is so lame and old flip top cell phone has more tech in it that the Lily Lake so called "computer" lab
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Irving if you had a Masters degree youd expect to be compensated more wouldnt you?? no no no of course you wouldnt "snicker"
Randy Marsh February 25, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Marc, I don't know how many would be as adamant about containing those costs if not for the fact that the teachers union takes the district (and, let's be honest, the taxpayers) behind the woodshed every time the sides agree to a new contract. That ship has sailed, the salary freezes needed to start about 6 years ago.
Randy Marsh February 25, 2013 at 10:30 PM
I honestly don't have a problem with paying someone more than $150,000 a year when they are responsible for overseeing a dozen schools and their principals, dealing with a school board that can't get out of its own way and an operation that spends more than $100 million each year.
Randy Marsh February 25, 2013 at 10:36 PM
Regardless of the advanced degrees, am I the only one on here who finds the need to question the competency of any teacher who could possibly be married to such a raving lunatic as Marc? I mean, if she hasn't switched him to decaf yet how does she possibly control a room full of 30 kids?
Marc Pentland February 25, 2013 at 11:01 PM
yup, the union needs to be "reshaped" I have had issue with eons about some teachers/staff who are not doing their job but cannot be let go due to the whole tenure thing, I think, and this is correct thinking, that if you suck at your job, your ineffective or don't care about why your there you should be able to be let go, that alone sends the wrong message, put in your time and then you can do what you want...........thats a big "uhhh no"
North Hill Dude February 26, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Marc, you are all over the place. We seem to agree on several points except why aren't district salaries and benefits up for questioning? The district has either misrepresented or lied in the past yet we are supposed blindly throw them another $11M. I would hope a highly educated guy such as yourself could refrain from calling people names.
Randy Marsh February 26, 2013 at 12:49 AM
I actually would support the "another $11 million" North Hill Dude, because I think at the very least continuing the existing operating levy is not too outrageous a request. It will be interesting to see just how much extra the district thinks it needs and how they are going to ensure it's not just going to pay for raises.
Marc Pentland February 26, 2013 at 01:51 AM
Nope, not really all over the place, I don’t think that teachers should have what they have worked for taken away from them, but I also do not think that with the district’s policy of “gloom and doom” we need this we need that from tax payers for schools and for kids and just give it over to salary increases or things of that nature is dead wrong. I know we need to upgrade and update several facets of our system HOWEVER I do not think a pay increase for a superintendant which is pretty much a mouth piece, let alone the asst sups or their assistants is the proper use of tax payer funds, directly towards the good of the pupils in our schools (and this includes good teachers, technology etc) is fine with me, any other use INCLUDING pay increases is NOT and my wife knows this is how I feel because while I do not advocate punishing the teachers in our district by taking from them I do not feel there needs to be an increase in already generous salaries and benefits (I know that they are looking at a new medical insurance plan) family insurance anywhere is expensive BUT I think they could kick in a bit more to help cover some costs. Don’t even get me going on this new in school clinic thing I have NO clue what that nightmare is suppose to accomplish (but I don’t think it is a good idea especially if it uses tax payer dollars). We do agree on many things, but vilifying teachers is not one of them.
Marc Pentland February 26, 2013 at 01:53 AM
I am educated yet unrefined :)
Randy Marsh February 26, 2013 at 02:39 AM
I'm not sure how educated you are about several of the things you rail against, Marc. If you believe what has been tried elsewhere with favorable results the clinic will actually save the district more than enough money to cover the cost of creating it within a relatively short period of time. I'm glad you want the district to kick in even more money for the teachers health plans. How about like the private sector where the employees are picking up the bulk of those increases. Also, you don't seem to care for the new superintendent, a feeling that has no doubt been influenced by your wife. If he ruffles some feathers of the rank and file (some might say the fat and sassy) and I think that's a good thing. Also, did you miss the part where he has trimmed a lot of dead weight from central services?
Markus February 26, 2013 at 04:06 PM
It is surprising that the commentary revolves mostly around a proposed levy granting the district additional funding but no one argues whether the district should get any funding at all. No one questions why people find it acceptable for Democratic union members with an agenda to imprison their kids for 13 years in state-of-the-art daycare centers all the while threatening to confiscate their homes if they don't pay up. In any other industry competition rules. If you have a product people like to buy, someone is going to find a way to make it cheaper and better and undersell you. But mention competition in education and you get PhD's and union bosses waging all out campaigns to protect their precious taxpayer funded monopoly. Like most government entities, the idea of public schools was maybe well intentioned, but has spiraled out of control and needs to be reigned in or even dismantled. Parents need to take responsibility for their own children rather than forcing their neighbor to at gunpoint. The idea that "good" public schools increase property values is arguable. It really is a canard. If that was the stated goal and taxpayer funded services did indeed increase property values, then would it not stand to reason we would have public grocery stores, public clinics and public gas stations to increase property values? The free market works in every other industry. To say it doesn't work in education is being intellectually dishonest.
Keith O. February 26, 2013 at 04:59 PM
Intellectually dishonest, Markus? Then what do you consider hyperbole like "imprison their kids," "state-of-the-art daycare centers," threatening to confiscate their homes" and "forcing their neighbor to at gunpoint"? When you use such ridiculous exaggeration, people stop listening to the point you're trying to make. It's not a monopoly. Everyone has several choices to avoid the gulag that is Stillwater Public Schools: homeschool, charter school, private school, move.
Irving February 26, 2013 at 05:02 PM
If I were a sanitation engineer and I had a MFA, should I be paid more? If I'm a software writer that generates millions for my company but never got a degree, should I be paid less? Realistically, what does a degree get you when you are teaching kids? Does a 5th grade math teacher need to know calculus to teach 5th grade math? In the final analysis, an 8th grader with some pedagogy skills should know everything they need to teach a 7th grader.
Randy Marsh February 26, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Exactly which communities with strong property values have poor schools and which areas where houses are cheap have good schools, Markus? We've seen what happens when non-traditional public schools get their hands on tax dollars, they become corrupt (look no further than St. Croix Prep). Have you looked into the for-profit colleges cropping up everywhere? How's that working out?
Alex Mundy February 26, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Not a surprising position for Markus, given that he's practiced home schooling and advocating for non-schooling. There are plenty of people in the district who don't believe in altruism, although most of those don't have kids in the school system. Fortunately, there are more who see value in the pursuit of higher standards that attracts like-minded families to the Stillwater district. Having said that, support should not be interpreted as carte blanche for the district to get whatever money it is asking for without confronting issues about salary and benefits. For public relations considerations alone, you simply can't take 77 percent of the budget off the table and focus on cuts to the other 23 percent. It's not a matter of jealousy like Mr. Pentland would have you believe. It's a matter of reality when the financial alarm is being sounded.
Markus February 26, 2013 at 08:53 PM
"Then what do you consider hyperbole like "imprison their kids," "state-of-the-art daycare centers," threatening to confiscate their homes" and "forcing their neighbor to at gunpoint"?" It's hardly hyperbolic. It's taking each of those statements to their logical end. Try not complying with the compulsory attendance laws or not paying your taxes. Eventually the government shows up with guns. With the advent of ECFE, the government now has the opportunity to "educate" your child from birth on. Do we really need the government to provide education for infants and toddlers? Anybody with Google can see home school children score significantly higher and typically school for 3 hours a day. The education establishment has attempted to convince us they need the kids for 7 or 8 hours a day for 18 years to produce "educated" people. It's just not the case. If it were not for the built in daycare aspect of government education, most parents would be in a quandary. Again, that's not exaggerating, it's a hard truth for most addicted to the government school paradigm. It's also ironic that the state offers daycare subsidies mostly to mothers who work outside the home, but those that choose to stay home and raise/educate their children get nothing. As always government has their priorities backwards. Rather than encouraging a traditional parenting model, the state discourages it by subsidizing the opposite.
Markus February 26, 2013 at 09:07 PM
"Exactly which communities with strong property values have poor schools and which areas where houses are cheap have good schools, Markus?" You're suggesting that "good" schools result in high property values. I would argue the inverse is true. Affluence will always have a positive affect due to more financial resources and parental involvement. Allow parents to opt out of the system (that means taking their dollars with them) and you'd see for profit or private schools pop up all over the place. St. Croix Prep is still a public school. The fact that it's wildly popular would suggest people are desperate for alternatives. That being said St. Croix Prep is hardly a panacea.
Keith O. February 26, 2013 at 09:51 PM
I don't think that's the "logical end" for most people, Markus. You seem to build your arguments around your paranoid perception of being forced to do things by the government. I wasn't forced to take my kids to ECFE, but I certainly took advantage of the opportunity to meet and interact with other parents while my children were in their "indoctrination" sessions. Or, as ECFE called it, play time. There's nothing wrong with home schooling, but it's simply not practical for most families where both parents are forced to work (not by the government, but by their creditors). We're "addicted to the government school paradigm" of 7 to 8 hours a day because it conveniently coincides with the typical work day. By "traditional parenting model," I assume you mean the father works outside the home for financial gain and the mother stays home with the kids. I was fortunate enough to be home with four kids until they were old enough for school. And I would disagree that parents who choose to stay home and raise their children get nothing. I think the experience and the memories are priceless. If we subsidize anything, we should subsidize professionals who specialize in educating our children and guiding them through a broad range of experiences they could never get at home or on the Internet. Oh yeah, we already do that.
tax payer March 01, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Looks like no need for a levy - Yahoo................... Minnesota deficit forecast shrinks: St. Paul Pioneer Press 3-1-2013... The forecast was especially good news for schools. It projects a $295 million fund balance in Minnesota's treasury at the end of the current fiscal year June 30. State law requires $290 million of that money go to pay off part of the $1.1 billion the state owes schools in delayed payments.

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