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Squeaky wheels: Frazee backtracks on cuts to ag and sports

Game on for ag, gymnastics and cross-country.

Last week, the Frazee School Board met and decided on a few changes to the original list of positions and programs to be cut from this coming year's budget.

The second reading of the ordinance finalized the cuts and what will be returned to the budget.

One of two agriculture positions was slated to be cut from next year's budget. The staff development committee has a pot of money, and it decided to kick in $40,000 toward the $60,000-per-year position in order to keep both teachers employed. The school district will pay the remaining $20,000.

Monday afternoon, Frazee Schools Superintendent Deron Stender said because of a "squeaky wheel," gymnastics and cross-country will be restored as well.

Several parents and students spoke at the two school board meetings where the two sports were reported to be added to the cost containment list -- in other words, cut from the school.

"Real or not, the possibility is that the parents involved will enroll their students in other districts," Stender said, adding that was a major deciding factor. "We're victim to those kinds of threats."

To help make up for the extra costs of the two sports not being cut and the $20,000 from the ag position, both principals will have their contracts reduced by 21 days each.

"It's like we're wizards playing with magic," Stender said on trying to make the budget work, yet make staff and the public happy, and bring a good education to the students.

With gymnastics being taken off the cost containment list, danceline, which was slated to replace gymnastics for Title 9 purposes, will not be a part of the budget. That's another sore spot.

"They feel like they didn't get to advocate for danceline," he said. "How come 45 can't and eight can? (Referring to the amount of participants in danceline and gymnastics, respectively.) Unfortunately, it comes to program against program."

The budget cutting process is a stressful one, and one Stender hopes to not have to repeat it year after year.

"I feel like we're a nation in a Third World country. It's a civil war against ourselves. I wish we could work together," he said.

One way Stender and the school board are trying to work with the public is a new approach to getting a referendum passed for the district.

Stender's new proposal for a referendum, which will be on the November ballot, includes less aggression and more allocated funds -- an approach he hopes the public will prefer.

At a public meeting Monday afternoon, about half a dozen audience members agreed the new approach may just work.

This time around -- the past three school referendums have been defeated -- there will be three questions on the ballot, specifying where people want their tax money to go to within the school district.

Stender listed the three he thinks are the most important. One is support for the all-day, every-day kindergarten, second is technology improvements and third is to support the general levy.

For the kindergarten program, there are several options including adding more staff or replacing staff. There is a possibility the state will fund kindergarten, then the school district wouldn't have to worry about levying for the program.

Stender said he chose the kindergarten program because "we need to educate the young."

For technology, the amount levied depends on an amount the board would like to request.

"Machines are working now, but..." Stender said.

"And technology is always changing," added school board member Kathy Kallis.

For the general levy, there isn't any specific amount used for any one thing. The funds will be used for facility maintenance, fuel, etc.

The total levied would be between $500-$600 per pupil for five years. At $500 per pupil, it would raise $600,000 for the school district.

Stender said the district really couldn't wait to try for another referendum.

The few people in the audience supported the proposal, saying "it has a lot of merit," and that the board is "headed in the right direction this time."

Stender said if the district could pass the levy and get some money for technology, for instance, it would free up some funds in the general fund for other purposes.

At this point, another referendum meeting is not scheduled, but it may be in the future.