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South Washington County School Board says no to music cuts, class size increase

The District 833 School Board is set to approve $1.2 million in budget changes, but rejected a proposal to cut nearly $100,000 in district music staffing and another measure that would have slightly raised class sizes for larger savings.

The board is set to approve budget transfers and spending reductions on March 22 to help balance next year's budget. Board members tentatively approved the budget-balancing plan last Thursday.

A group of parents turned out at the meeting to object to a proposed $97,500 cut in band and orchestra staffing for grades 4-12.

That proposal, recommended by a district finance panel, drew about 15 parents, four of whom asked the board not to cut back the music program.

"It's such a wonderful program and shouldn't be watered down," said Sharon Parker, of Woodbury.

Superintendent Mark Porter said cutting the entire music program was originally on the list from a 16-member committee organized to find $2 million in cuts, but was not recommended by the administration.

It would have had a significant impact on students, Porter said, but other staffing changes and savings that won't affect student opportunities can be considered.

The budget-balancing plan also does not call for increasing class sizes by an average of one-half student, a measure that would save $741,000 but lacked board support.

Board member Ron Kath said finding $2 million was not a "hard number" and that he will support $1.2 million in cuts and budget changes.

"There's no reason to cut teachers until next year," Kath said.

The district may use reserve funds to finish balancing the budget.

Board member Jim Gelbmann agreed with Kath, along with fellow members David Kemper and Laurie Johnson.

Board member Marsha Adou said she was surprised to see the increase in class sizes on a list of recommendations after board members rejected it last month.

"We seem to always do what we've done in the past," she said.

Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd, who was a liaison member to the recommending committee, wondered why a change in assistant principal staffing was not discussed. The district staffs a building with 900 students the same way it does for one with 300, she said.

Buildings with younger teachers need more help and evaluations, Porter said, and some schools have populations that need more help.

Board member Tracy Brunnette also served as a committee liaison, but acknowledged that she, and Boyd, missed the last committee meeting. She questioned why four teachers are on temporary leave for other district positions at a cost of $260,000.

"How come that wasn't there?" she said.

The budget plan calls for changing special education services, but that could present a "huge liability" problem, according to Brunnette. She also wanted to know whether transferring some Community Education funds is justified before supporting the committee's list of budget changes.

Student fees also prompted questions.

Boyd asked if the district wants more athletic participation, why are fee increases being recommended. She also said some band and orchestra programs could be offered after school, she said.

Busing is a concern, Porter said, adding that high school athletic and activity departments can find additional ways to cut their budgets. Fees might increase $5 to $10 but would come back to the board for approval.

Current fees are low when compared to other similar districts, Porter said.

"I want to know what low is," Adou said. She also asked if efficiencies such as changing school temperatures were considered by the buildings and grounds department.

Porter said departments were given a target and would determine how it will be met.

It undermines the committee recommendation process to go back through the list of line items, Kath said, and Gelbmann agreed.

Boyd said the budget-balancing list doesn't align with what the committee wanted. "I talked to people and heard frustration," she said.

"Then start over," Kath said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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