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Moorhead teachers concerned about severe budget cuts coming up

MOORHEAD - The 20 teachers sat quietly during Monday's Moorhead School Board meeting - an unusually large turnout at the often sparsely attended gathering.

Many were young teachers. A few were district veterans. Education Moorhead, the teacher's association, encouraged them to be there. As the group's President Cheryl Keenan put it, "It's harder to cut positions when you can put a face to the numbers."

During the meeting, district administration shared a more detailed preliminary outline of planned budget cuts worth $4.9 million. The numbers were unsettling: 64 positions - 42 of them licensed employees - or almost 10 percent of the staff at the Moorhead district, one of the largest employers in the city.

But despite the outsized showing at the meeting, Keenan said, the association accepts these numbers and the inevitability of major cuts, which she blamed on insufficient state funding.

"There's an undercurrent of worry: 'Am I going to have a job next year?' " Keenan said.

At 7 tonight, the district holds a community forum on the proposed cuts at the Probstfield Center.

Last month, school officials first revealed plans to trim 10 percent of the district's budget to prevent an almost $5 million deficit next school year. Besides letting staff members go, the district has proposed a freeze of special education expenditures and higher activity fees. Officials also project cuts in textbooks and supplies, and a $500,000 reduction in energy consumption costs.

At the Monday meeting, Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak also discussed the expected impact of various cost-cutting measures. Most troublesome for school board members and teachers is the projected increase in class sizes at the high school level, from an average of 28 now to 40.

Keenan called that "a hard number to take," one that virtually ensures teachers will have to cut down drastically on one-on-one time with students.

Tammie Yak, a district resident and mom of six, said she found the proposed cuts package "terribly concerning."

"We already have large classrooms, and if they get any larger, the kids are going to get lost," said Yak, who last fall pulled her son out of kindergarten, where, she said, one teacher was in charge of 25 children. When her son dashed out of the classroom once, she said, there was no one to go after him.

The district will refine budget plans through March, when the board votes on next year's budget.