A series of difficult cuts came to an end April 6 as the Forest Lake school board approved another round of budget reductions of approximately $1.02 million for the 2017-2018 school year. These most recent cuts, the third in a series of reductions that began Feb. 2, brings the total amount to $2.6 million.
Perhaps the most significant announcement came in the form of 10.78 full time equivalent positions announced to be cut as of the 2017-18 school year. At the elementary level, Forest Lake will lose 5.35 full time equivalent teaching positions at a cost savings of $267,000. Some support staff positions will also be cut for a savings of $39,000. Also at the elementary level, special education funds will be reallocated to the general fund. That move will save $31,000.
At the secondary level, full time equivalent teaching positions will be reduced by 5.35 for a savings of $271,500, and a cut to support staff positions will save $178,145.
Aside from the elimination of teaching positions, the April 6 announced cuts included a number of curriculum changes. The junior high physical education swimming unit will be cut, and the Southwest pool will no longer be used for any high school courses. The savings here come in the form of no longer having to pay aquatic staff during those times ($56,593) and a savings in not having to bus students back and forth ($2,300). The school board also voted to eliminate the activity bus at a savings of $19,500 and also to reduce the communications/marketing/governmental relations budget by $95,000.
Other approved cuts include reductions in the supply budget totaling $10,000 at the high school level, $5,000 at Southwest Junior High, $5,000 at Century Junior High, $1,000 at the Area Learning Center, and $5,000 from activities.
Finally, registration fees for all athletics and activities will be increased by $1 per week for an expected revenue boost of $36,250.
The board did discuss and expressed concerns regarding how the community would react to yet another series of cuts. Member Jeff Peterson spoke to what he believes is a common misconception.
“I often hear comments from the community that we need to cut administration instead of taking away from our kids,” he said. “I personally believe that we run very lean on the admin side, and we do a phenomenal job at protecting the classroom given the circumstances. These cuits that we are forced to make are not numbers on paper, but rather they are families and children and community members.”
Karen Morehead spoke to an often overlooked aspect of the budget reductions.
“One really sad aspect to all of this is that when we are forced to reduce our supply budget, a lot of those supplies still need to come from somewhere,” she said. “That equals more money directly out of teachers’ pockets.”
Board president Rob Rapheal put much of the blame for the cuts on what he perceives to be a governmental unwillingness to fight for what schools really need.
“The education omnibus bill recently went through the House and despite the fact that, because of our many conversations with him, (District 39A Rep. Bob) Dettmer knew that even the 2 percent increase we were hoping for wasn’t going to be enough, he voted yes on less than that,” Rapheal said. “Then he sent an email bragging about tax cuts. We have a huge surplus in the state of Minnesota right now and to shortchange education makes me wonder where your priorities are.”
Dettmer painted a different financial portrait and said he is proud of the work that has been done with the omnibus bill and is looking forward to further negotiations with the senate and the governor.
“We approved a 1.25 percent increase per year for two years, but I expect that after we are done with idscussions with the senate and the governor we will be much closer to the 2 percent mark,” Dettmer said. “You also have to take into consideration the transportation funding that we approved. That will see Forest Lake getting an extra $80 per student per biennium. When you multiply that by 7,007 students, that is a significant amount of money over the course of two years.”
Dettmer said that he is confident that, so far, the best job has been done with the funds that are available.
“There obviously isn’t an endless amount of money,” he said. “Each committee is given a number they can spend. The k-12 education committee spent $18.5 billion which is 1.2 billion more than last biennium.”