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School district faces $900,000 deficit

The Lake Superior School District school board held a special meeting before a full house on Tuesday to discuss looming budget cuts under consideration for next year.

Business manager Lance Takkunen started the meeting by telling the board that, based on projections, the district would have a $900,000 deficit next year. He went on to say that over 60 percent of the district's budget goes to salaries and benefits for staff.

"Most of our budget is dealing with people," he said.

Superintendent Bill Crandall continued by presenting the proposed budget cuts to the board and the public in attendance, which consisted of over 30 parents, teachers and community members.

There were a few small-scale cuts proposed that aimed at reducing utility, bussing and athletic costs. More significant savings were proposed through staff cuts.

The draft proposes cutting almost six full-time positions, including instruction for sixth-grade band in both Two Harbors and Silver Bay, a social studies teacher at William Kelley High School and two- half time positions--one each in physical education and English at Two Harbors High School. Two other positions would also be cut--but where those cuts would be made is unclear.

Staff cuts, along with paraprofessional reductions, would result in about $600,000 in savings. The remaining $300,000 would come from various small savings, five retiring staff members and a hoped-for revenue increase from the state.

"We do not know what's going to happen," Crandall said, airing frustrations that the school board echoed: Revenues cannot be determined until state budgets are confirmed and enrollment numbers are known.

Another option was proposed that could preserve the sixth-grade band position. Split classes could be added--courses in which students from two grades are taught in the same classroom--but this solution would increase class sizes and put extra strain on teachers.

Amy Cavallin, a teacher at the Minnehaha, urged the board to consider the difficulties of split classes.

"I taught splits for three years and it isn't impossible, but we are under a different set of standards (for testing). It is going to be much more difficult to handle that," she said.

Rick Hogenson, who has children attending school in the district, cautioned against bigger class sizes, a concern Minnehaha PTA members expressed at a school board meeting earlier this month.

"I mean you heard the numbers...we've got to do something," board member Dwight Moe replied.

The budget discussions are just beginning and there won't be a final draft until June. The board expressed its desire to limit the effect the cuts have on student learning, but acknowledged the reality of a nearly $1 million deficit.

"We have a mantra of keeping the cuts out of the classroom," board member Leo Babeu said. "but at some point, we can't drain anymore savings (to maintain programs)."

The proposed budget cuts are available for review at the district office. School board members can be contacted with any input or questions about the budgeting process. The district office can be contacted at 834-8201 ext. 8213.

Parents, teachers turn out at April 16 board meeting

The school board met before a large crowd on April 16, as well. The meeting, rescheduled because of a snowstorm the previous week, was attended by a large contingent of Minnehaha Elementary teachers, parents and administrators. The group was there to express its concern about the possibility of budget cuts affecting the teaching staff at the Minnehaha.

Principal Pat Driscoll presented the board with data showing the Minnehaha's contribution to district coffers. With district revenues based on the number of students enrolled, Driscoll estimates that the school will bring in $191,000 between this year and next.

Chrissy Libal, an officer of the Parent Teacher Association, spoke out against the increased class sizes that would accompany teacher cuts, saying: "The education at the Minnehaha right now is top notch." She shared the PTA's concerns that increased class size would result in lower test scores and sub-standard education.

"Thank you all for coming. I don't think you're going to find any disagreement up here," school board member Jack Pichotta said in response.

After hearing the concerns of the group representing the Minnehaha, the board moved on to its business items, beginning with the approval of the financial report.

The first item of new business was a bill from Play It Again Sports for hockey bags for the North Shore Storm team. The bags cost $2,100, which was beyond the budget originally set by the board for the team's equipment. On that basis, board member Leo Babeu opposed payment. The rest of the members voted to pay the bill.

The board unanimously approved a resolution to lay-off all of the educational assistants for the summer months, an action they take every year.

Next, a letter from the Two Harbors DECA team was read. The team requested that the board cover adviser Julie Benson's travel expenses to the international DECA competition in Anaheim, Calif. The board agreed to pay her way.

A number of district employees will be retiring this year after decades of service. The board regretfully accepted the retirements of Rick Coughlin, Terri MacFarlane, Deb Livingston, Harriet Mallon and Mary Gagnon. Steve Wasko will also be retiring from sports--stepping down from his position as head coach for the North Shore Storm hockey team and assistant coach for Two Harbors football. Watch the News-Chronicle for more information on these community members and their careers.

After 17 months of negotiation, the board finally approved a contract with the Local 70 union, which includes bus drivers, cooks and custodians. The approved contract is for 2011-13. The approval comes just in time for the board to begin the next round of contract negotiations with the union.

Superintendent Bill Crandall informed the board that the district's application to be an Area Learning Center has been accepted by the Minnesota Department of Education. The district currently has an Alternative Learning Program called SOLO. An ALC is similar to the current structure, but now the district can take students from all over the state, not just the local area. ALP and ALC programs offer an alternative path to graduation for nontraditional students, with classwork done on a student's timeline outside of regular school hours.

The ALC designation is a stepping stone to the district's ultimate goal of offering targeted services, which allow alternative learning structures to be extended beyond high school to all grades beginning at kindergarten.

"It opens us up for more possibilities and for more age levels," Crandall said. The district is in the process of applying to have targeted services.

Crandall also informed the board that the four-day week application has been submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education. The district could hear back as early as May, but the response is expected to take longer.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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