Osseo School District proposes four rounds of budget cuts

Community feedback forums scheduled in February

Nearly $11 million in proposed budget reductions in the Osseo School District call for the layoff of the equivalent of 110 full-time teachers, counselors and other instructional staff, in addition to support and administrative staff, by the 2014-15 school year.

Cuts would also include reductions in transportation, cocurricular activities and athletics. Swimming instruction at the junior high level would be eliminated and enrollment center hours would be reduced. Class sizes would also be increased.

The district will be presenting proposed cuts and taking comments from the public at three community feedback forums in February. Drastic cuts became necessary, the district said, after voters rejected a $9 million-a-year operating levy last fall by a 116-vote margin.

As directed by the school board, district staff have identified four levels of potential cuts, taking into account community member responses to the district’s “financial priorities” survey. The idea is that the board can make reductions in stages.

Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf said the district is looking to put items that would directly impact students and families on the fourth level, which would be the last to be cut.

If the situation improves before all the cuts go into effect, the most onerous changes may not be needed. In determining which services should be priorities, the district considered input from its community survey, as well as comments from the long-range financial planning design team.

Staff presented the proposed levels of cuts at a school board work session Jan. 29. Three community forums were scheduled in February to present the proposed cuts to the public and get feedback. The first was Feb. 6. The others are Thursday, Feb. 7 and Monday, Feb. 11.


Four levels of cuts

In determining budget reductions, district staff sought to minimize direct impact on classrooms and families. But Supt. Kate Maguire stressed that all levels would be painful and said prioritizing cuts is about choosing “the less-bad” out of all the bad options.

“There isn’t going to be anything that has no impact,” she said.

Here’s an overview of some of the major changes:

• Level one cuts, which would be the first to be implemented, focus on non-instructional areas, including administrative personnel, academic challenge coaches, wrestling coaches, staff development and late-activity buses. Level one cuts would also include some instructional reductions, including a gifted education teacher, two water safety instructors, one-and-a-half classroom teachers, 12.6 special education teachers and more. Level one would reduce the budget by about $3 million.

• The second round of cuts include the equivalent of about 16 classroom teachers, as well as some non-instructional support staff. Cuts would be $1 million.

• Level three would see more staff development disappear, along with about 14 classroom teachers and non-instructional testing support. These reductions would save $1 million.

• The most drastic cuts would kick in at level four. Cuts would be worth approximately $6 million and would include about 46 classroom teachers, two English learner teachers, three English learner support professionals and five counselors. In addition, the district would lose 14 administrative and clerical positions, five teachers on special assignment, nine custodians and two communications personnel. About half-a-million dollars in athletics and cocurricular activities would be cut, high school walking distances would increase and enrollment center hours would be reduced.


Survey results

The financial priorities survey was available online through Jan. 13 for residents to offer feedback regarding what they felt were essential services or areas for potential savings.

Respondents answered multiple choice questions and also had opportunities to give comments and ideas.

A total of 1,449 people responded to the non-scientific survey. A disproportionate majority (764, or 52 percent) of those surveyed identified themselves as residents of Maple Grove. Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park were underrepresented in survey results compared to the number of students enrolled in the district.

“High quality teaching staff” was most commonly selected as the highest priority, followed by “maintaining or reducing current class sizes.”

Respondents were most likely to approve cuts in three levels: the “Mentor Connection” program, a course allowing gifted juniors and seniors to study a specific topic with a mentor in the community; college-level courses; and high school athletics.

According to the district’s analysis, the most common cost-saving or revenue-generating ideas referenced in comments were:

1. Cut administration or support staff.

2. Increase fees in the district.

3. Cut transportation.

4. Cut athletics or activities.

Full survey results and other information are available at tinyurl.com/district279budget.


Upcoming District 279 community forums on budget cuts

• 6-7:30 p.m Thursday, Feb. 7, in the media center at Park Center Senior High Media Center, 7300 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Park (enter from Brooklyn Boulevard through Door A).

• 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, in the Forum Room at Osseo Senior High 317 2nd Ave. N.W. (enter Door 1).