Osseo School Board approves list of cuts

About $3.1 million in reductions will be effective next school year

The Osseo School Board approved $3.1 million in specific budget reductions for next school year at its March 5 meeting.

The board had previously agreed to pursue only the first of four levels of potential cuts next school year with the remaining cuts on the table for the following year if the financial picture didn’t change. Specific reductions were discussed at length during two work sessions that each lasted about three hours or more.

Here’s an overview of the cuts approved for next school year:

$346,172 in cuts to administration – This includes a clerical position, a labor relations analyst and the music and gifted education coordinators. The district says these cuts will mean less coordination of the gifted and music education programming as well as additional duties assigned to other staff members. However, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Education Standards Wendy Biallas-Odell assured the board that students will not experience reduced service because of the restructuring the coordination of music and gifted education programs.

$431,944 in cuts to non-instructional support – According to the district, the impacts will include less technology support for schools, less testing support, less frequent deliveries to schools, reduced service to families with autistic children (autism behavior teachers will have five fewer days) and less control by building leaders over building cleaning.

$123,500 in cuts to athletics, co-curriculars and activities –This includes reductions in transportation for sports as well as fewer supplies. In response to public comments, the district changed the way cuts to transportation will work from the initial recommendation. Instead of cutting all weekend and holiday transportation, the district will make cuts to transportation for athletics across the board but individual programs will have flexibility in deciding how to spend their transportation budgets.

$201,376 in cuts to staff development – Some staff development will be restructured so it is provided at sites as job-embedded training, and other reductions will mean less access to professional resources, the district says.

$162,866 in cuts to transportation –This includes a 33 percent reduction in late activity buses and less transportation for in-district educational programs. The district says this means late activities may be scheduled on fewer days per week to reduce the number of buses needed, and/or students may experience longer bus rides.

$182,060 in cuts to purchased services and supplies – This includes reductions to custodial and general supplies and contracted service and repair, as well as postage, advertising and printing. According to the district this will mean staff may not have supplies to complete work and there will be fewer opportunities to communicate with the public about the school district. It also means work requiring outside support will not be done or will need to be assigned to other staff.

$687,209 in cost sharing and chargebacks – Some of the general fund obligations that can legally be charged to other funds will be reclassified to come from those funds. The district says this limits the budget in areas outside the general fund, such as food service.

$616,047 in cuts to instructional staff and support – This includes water safety instructors, English learner teachers, secondary teacher support from the gifted education budget, educational support professionals, special education teachers, a developmental adaptive physical education teacher and the equivalent of 1.58 full-time classroom teachers. The district says this means there will be increased class sizes in a few secondary-level classes, larger class sizes for English learner math, longer waits for English learner services at the enrollment center and potential increases in other class sizes. It also says swimming will no longer be offered as a unit in junior high physical education, and there will be less classroom support and reduced special education programs. It should be noted some cuts to staff would normally have been expected in order to “align staffing” with slowly declining enrollment.

323,335 in other cuts related to instruction – This includes restructuring some elementary special education services and reducing special eduction summer services.

If the budget situation doesn’t improve, the district says it will consider more drastic measures for the 2014-15 school year. Those reductions would potentially include about $1.2 million in administration cuts, about $800,000 in other non-instructional cuts and about $5 million in instructional cuts.

Before the board approved the cuts for next school year, Director Teresa Lunt said although making reductions is difficult, the district’s process for selecting cuts and gathering community feedback was more thorough than ever.

“I believe the process used was sound and transparent,” she said, noting that administration and the board were responsive to community feedback and made changes because of that feedback. Other school board members echoed her sentiment.

Lunt also said she had some concerns about eliminating the gifted education and music coordinator positions. But she said administration assured her that by restructuring the way those services are coordinated, impact on students would be minimal.

Director Tammie Epley had similar feelings but was also reassured by administration.

“I trust our superintendent,” she said.

Epley also berated the state and federal government for not funding the services they require schools to provide.

Director Jim Burgett said although the cutting process was painful, it was thorough and a much better process than the sequester at the federal level.

“I think we’ve tried to minimize the pain as much as we can,” he said.

Director Linda Etim added that she felt proud of the community’s participation in the process.

Chair Dean Henke said although he could support many items in the recommendation, he could not support a few of the cuts. Despite the reassurances of administration, he still fears gaps in service if the gifted education and music coordinator positions are eliminated.

He also could not support the reductions in transportation for athletics, saying athletics are part of a well-rounded high school experience and that cutting transportation would be detrimental.

In addition, Henke said he wants to see slower budget growth. This year’s assumption for budget growth was 3.75 percent. Next year the board is seeking to hold growth to 3.25 percent. Henke said he would like to shave off another half percent and try to contain growth to 2.75 percent.

“What’s a struggle for me is that we’re growing our budget beyond our revenue, and then we have meetings tonight where we’re cutting,” he said.

The board approved the list of cuts in a 5-1 vote with Henke dissenting.