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Paynesville Press - March 31, 2004

School board approves budget reductions, restructing

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Area School Board approved nearly $200,000 in budget adjustments and approved district restructuring for the 2004-05 school year at their meeting last week.

Budget reductions for next year include the elimination of one building principal, one teacher at the elementary school, and one teacher at the middle/high school. While the administration proposal did not include dollar amounts - a point of contention for some board members - these three items total about $200,000 in reduced spending. (In past budget cuts, the cost of a full-time teacher has been estimated at $50,000 and a building principal at $100,000 per year.)

The budget reductions are part of the district's plan to compensate for continued declining enrollment. For the past seven years, Paynesville has graduated classes with 100 students, while incoming kindergarten classes have averaged only 70 students, a net loss of 30 students per year. This translates to lost state funding since the school district is paid state aid on a per pupil basis. In 2004-05, school administration expects the district to lose about $128,000 in state aid due to declining enrollment.

The reduction of one building principal is made possible by the restructuring of the school district, an item on the school board's agenda since the start of the school year. Currently, the district has three principals and three school buildings: elementary (K-5), middle (6-8), and high (9-12).

Last fall, the board approved hiring elementary principal Todd Burlingame to replace retiring superintendent Howard Caldwell in July. With Caldwell's retirement, the district has one fewer administrator.

Next year, Deb Gillman is expected to be the elementary principal (K-5) as well as continuing as the district's curriculum coordinator. Current high school principal John Janotta will be in charge of grades 6-12 next year.

Because administrators will have additional duties in supervising more staff and students next year, the restructuring proposal includes having a staff member calling substitute teachers (a duty currently done by the principals); adding back department chairs (an item that was cut previously) and having one teacher spend a duty period each day helping with curriculum; and having a middle school teacher and a high school teacher spend an hour a day helping with discipline in their building (as well as the athletic director, who handles discipline when Janotta is out of the building).

One contentious item in restructuring was the status of the middle school office, which administration originally proposed closing. A middle school office, with secretary, is budgeted for the 2004-05 school year but would close in 2005-06, according to administration's five-year plan.

In 2005-06, administration also recommends changing the building structure again to a K-6 and 7-12 alignment, which could mean moving the sixth grade to the elementary school building.

Teacher Cuts
The teacher reduction in the middle/high school will occur in seventh grade. This year's sixth grade class has only 82 students and was divided into three classroom sections (opposed to four sections when grades had 100 students).

Next year, both the sixth and seventh grades will be divided into three sections instead of four.

The middle/high school staff reduction will be made through attrition, as middle school teacher Bob Bowden has announced his retirement at the end of the 2003-04 school year.

In the elementary school, administration's proposal to reduce another staff teacher met some resistance from some school board members. Board members Deb Glenz and Tami Stanger protested the cut of a teacher at the elementary school and felt that administration should have found other areas to reduce spending or suggested ways to increase revenue.

Class sizes at PAES Caldwell responded that administration had recommended reducing classroom teachers at the elementary school to 19 last year and the school board had kept 20. Keeping a teacher compounds the impact on the budget, Caldwell noted. "We should have done it last year. The longer you wait, the worse it's going to get," he explained.

"This is a people business," added Caldwell later in the meeting. "The only way you can look at a substantial reduction is personnel."

(The district's five-year plan calls for the reduction of seven additional teachers in the next years from 2004-05 to 2008-09. Of these, six would be from the middle/high school and one from the elementary school. Administration hopes to accomplish these cuts, as much as possible, through teacher retirements.)

The school board wanted to offer a multi-age classroom in 2004-05, with a committee spending a year studying the implementation of such a classroom. (A multi-age classroom would have students at two grade levels in the same classroom.)

The attempt to offer such an alternative will be delayed for at least a year, as the board recommended that elementary staffing be done with four sections in kindergarten (which has a projected enrollment of 78 to 82 students for 2004-05) and three sections in grades 1-5.

The board recommended this staffing due to the high number of students expected in kindergarten next year. (Having a multi-age classroom would have meant at least 22 kindergartners per class next year, while having four sections of kindergarten means class sizes of 21 or less.)

The district will need to reduce its elementary teaching staff by one teacher for 2004-05 to accommodate this cut.

Other Cuts and Additions
Administration also proposed keeping supply budgets and student fees the same for 2004-05. The only exception was athletics, where an additional $3,000 will be budgeted for uniforms. (During the teacher negotiations last fall, the coaches agreed to a pay freeze in the hopes that additional money could be added to the athletics budget.)

The district will also not offer summer IPS (Introductory Physical Science) this year. This offering was not listed during registration in February.

Janotta explained the decision to the board again at last week's meeting, since several board members had received calls from concerned parents over the decision and a letter from the music department.

Historically, said Janotta, summer IPS allowed the high school to teach more science classes without hiring additional science teachers. Science also lent itself well to an intensive course schedule, since the longer days could be broken into classroom learning and lab time.

For 2004-05, though, Janotta found that one middle/high school science teacher would not have a full schedule if they offered summer IPS, so it did not make sense to offer summer IPS. (Science teachers are in such demand that a teacher with a less-than-full schedule might leave the district, Janotta noted.)

With the elimination of summer IPS, the 30 students who would normally take their science requirement in the summer (thus freeing an hour per day during their ninth grade year) found themselves with one fewer elective, which is why the music department does not like the change, since it makes it harder for students to take both band and choir. Janotta told the board that administration had looked at several options - offering band and choir every other day, for instance, or offering another class in the summer - but in the end felt that dropping summer IPS was the best way to keep the district's teaching staff intact.

Not offering summer IPS also will save the district about $4,000.

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