New Dist. 728 students to bring new teachers

School board goes above district administration’s plan to add 10 teachers

by Jim Boyle

Elk River Star News


Arguing that new money brought in by new students should primarily follow the students, the Elk River Area School Board approved the equivalent of nearly 10 more teachers at its Sept. 9 meeting.

That’s one more than the District 728 administration recommended. School administrators proposed taking care of pockets of large class sizes in grades K-2, and even some hot spots in middle schools.

School Board members reacted strongly to numbers bubbling up in fourth and fifth grade, where half-time positions had been added to bring down classes of 37 and 38 students down to 27 and 28 for reading and math. The rest of the school day, however, they would remain at 37 and 38 at fourth grade at Otsego Elmentary School and fifth grade at Meadowvale and Hassan elementary schools.

“I would hope we could spend our dollars (from surprise growth) on the kids coming into the district and not solve our budget problems,” School Board Director Sue Farber said. “I don’t want to see this money fix our budget problems at the cost of high class sizes at the elementary level.”

Otsego Elementary School, which gets more state compensatory funding based on higher levels of families qualifying for free and reduced lunches, already has a plan to add a half-time person with those dollars.

Superintendent Mark Bezek, acknowledging budget troubles loom,  suggested waiting until Oct. 1, when enrollment figures are no longer moderating. He told board members the district has had worse class sizes, and parents have not been screaming.

“They have seen these numbers before,” he said.

The Elk River Area School District adopted a budget this past year with a $3 million deficit and it’s looking at another $2.5 million to $3 million deficit to deal with in the next round of budgeting.

“It would be nice if some of the funds helped to reduce that deficit,” said Greg Hein, the executive director of business services for District 728. “Or when we get in a cut mode next, we might have to undo some of the stuff we might have already tried to accomplish this year.”

Farber, however, quickly had allies in her quest to address what she felt were offensive numbers in fourth and fifth grades.

“I don’t like going against administration, but I don’t like seeing 38 kids in an elementary classroom,” Farber said.

School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting was one who came to bat for adding at the fifth grade level.

“We just made the decision on an investment in all-day K … because we want all kids to ready by grade three,” she said. “Then I look at these figures, it looks like our investment is just thrown up in the air.”

School Board Director Jolene Jorgensen said she wasn’t opposed to thought of adding, but she did express caution about moving too quickly. She suggested waiting until after a chance for a work session and the Oct. 1 enrollment figures.

The thought of waiting a month into the school year was not appealing to the majority of the board.

In the end, Bezek said he would accept an additional teacher (two-half time teachers and corresponding specialists), and the Elk River Area School Board unanimously approved both the administration’s plan and the additional help at Hassan and Meadowvale. By adding a half-time position at each school, each school will be able to add a section to bring class sizes down to 27 or 28.

The other hires in the administration’s plan are:

• One full-time equivalent kindergarten teacher (Zimmerman).

• Two full-time equivalent first-grade teachers (Parker and Rogers).

• Three full-time equivalent teachers (Lincoln, Parker and Rogers).

• One full-time equivalent third-grade teacher (Otsego).

• 0.6 full-time equivalent teachers (Rogers Middle School).

• 0.4 full-time equivalent teachers (Salk).

• 0.6 full-time equivalent teachers (VandenBerge Middle School).

These additions come on the heels of a last month’s decision to add nearly five teachers the weekend before the start of the 2013-14 school year. That was done knowing the administration would be back to recommend adding more teachers once school started, when the district would have a better handle on where enrollment would be for the school year.

As of Day 5 of the school year, the Elk River Area School District had 337 more students than last year’s Day 5 figures. Those students will generate $1.7 million in new revenue, and the recently approved elementary and middle school positions will cost about $1.2 million. That includes both waves of hires and associated specialists as well as a portion of the added curriculum costs.