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District 833 parents irked by longer student walking distances in $2 million budget-cutting plan

Parents attending a public review of proposed School District 833 budget cuts told administrators they are opposed to extending the walking distances for secondary school students.

At Cottage Grove Middle School Tuesday, Superintendent Keith Jacobus reviewed the district's hybrid $2 million budget-cutting plan that would include $160,000 in savings by adding one-half mile to the one-mile walking distance at middle schools and going from one-and-a-half miles to two miles at the district's high schools.

The budget plan, to be acted on by the School Board at its meeting Thursday evening, March 21, also includes cutting 22.42 full-time equivalent teaching positions and another four support service positions throughout the district.

Jane Christensen, one of about 20 people at the Tuesday meeting, said her home is within the Woodbury High School attendance boundary. Her children are currently bused to school but would have to walk to Woodbury High if the walking distances are increased. She said it would be closer for them to walk to East Ridge High School. It's not that she would prefer her kids go to East Ridge but that the proposal is illogical, she said.

Most parents would drive their ninth-graders to school under the proposal, Christensen said, and that would cause a traffic jam.

The district should negotiate with utilities to have the cost of heating discounted, said Dave Bramlett, of Woodbury. "Then, our kids could ride a bus to school," he said. "You're making it hard for parents."

Others said that continuing to pay to provide busing for kids in "choice" programs, such as Spanish Immersion, is penalizing students in traditional schools.

Cutting busing to choice programs isn't in the budget plan before the school board, Jacobus said.

"Choice programs are good for kids," he said.

A resident asked if the district counted the number of kids who would be affected by the walking changes.

The plan was not determined by the number of students, Jacobus said, but by the number of bus routes.

An earlier proposal to save money for contract buses with an earlier start time for middle schools was rejected because students, now released at 2:25 p.m., would be at home even earlier, he said.

One resident asked administrators if the district budget cuts could be reduced if state lawmakers allocate additional money to schools. The governor's plan would give the district $49 per student next year, if it passes, and $240 per student the following year, he said.

The additional money for next year, about $800,000, would add another one-half percentage point to the district's fund balance, according to Finance Director Aaron Bushberger, which is needed to cover one month's worth of district expenses in an emergency.

The cost of nutrition services was questioned, including offering breakfast to students. The department, not within the district general fund, is self-supporting, Jacobus said.

The board will discuss the cuts at its meeting tonight and set a preliminary budget. The main component is $1.5 million in savings made by eliminating the 22.42 full-time equivalent teaching positions.

The School Board meets at 7 p.m. at the District Service Center in Cottage Grove.

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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