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Proposed Park Rapids school cuts draw large crowd

It was standing room only at the Park Rapids School Board meeting Monday night.

Dozens of teachers, students, parents and citizens showed up in support of the German program. Others showed up to voice concerns about elementary school cuts.

The list of proposed budget cuts was approved, with the exception of the German position, which will be discussed again next week before a decision is made.

Superintendent Glenn Chiodo told the board at the last meeting that about $700,000 needed to be cut from the budget. In order to reach that mark, he proposed a reduction of two and a half teaching positions and one administrator position. The cuts include non-replacement of retirements and reductions of other positions.

Nine people are retiring at the end of this year, which significantly helped with the reductions, he said.

The school board voted to cut the following staff: Dave Free, driver's education teacher; Mitch Peterson, elementary principal; Rich Morehouse, physical education teacher; Barb Thomason, health; Charles Huber, middle school science; and Mike Clemens, middle school computer teacher.

German teacher Linda Uscola, who is retiring at the end of the school year, spoke in defense of the program.

She said that German is a much more universal language than Spanish. She also thought the school would not save much money by switching students to the Spanish program.

Teachers at the elementary school expressed concern about non-replacement of some teachers who are retiring. They were concerned about larger class sizes and less physical space in classrooms.

Also, teachers were concerned about principal Mitch Peterson being cut and wondered how his role would be filled.

Chiodo explained the reasons for the proposed budget adjustments.

- A potential decrease in state funding. The state is proposing some significant decreases in funding.

- A proposed adjustment in receiving state aid from 90 percent during the school year/10 percent in the fall to possibly 73 percent during the school year/27 percent in the fall.

- Proposed enrollment decreases over the next two years. Next year, he estimates the school district will have about 25 fewer students, which affects state funding.

- A loss of about $200,000 in revenue because of one-time money from the state for 2008-09.

- Inflationary increases, such as heat, electricity and insurance.

Ramifications of the proposed cuts include increased class sizes at the elementary level. Also, some teachers will have to take on more responsibilities. The elementary principal reduction will mean more cooperation will be needed to fill those responsibilities, Chiodo said.

School board member Karol Savage initially made a motion to approve all proposed budget cuts, including the German position.

Some school board members wanted more time to look at the position.

School board member Dennis Dodge wanted to table the German position in order to receive more information about what to do with students who are signed up for second, third and fourth year German.

School board member Gary Gauldin said that principal Al Judson will need to have a plan for those students, such as online classes or going to a surrounding school for German class.

"The bottom line is when you get to this stage in budget reductions you wind up ... pitting programs against programs," Gauldin said.

The board can't just say it will cut a different teacher, he said.

Chiodo said that by contract a decision needs to be made by April 30 if a different cut is proposed.

School board member Stephanie Carlson was concerned that online classes could cost nearly as much as keeping the teaching position.

"For me to make a solid, informed decision, I would need to know what that cost would be to provide the online ... I would need to see what the plan is for next year," Carlson said.

Board chairwoman Sherry Safratowich said that the budget cuts are not pleasant but could have been worse.

"The $700,000 worth of budget cuts that we need to make, this district, ultimately, is losing two and a half people that are currently employed that have not retired," Safratowich said. " ... This has less of an impact on our current staff."

If the school board decided to keep the German position a cut would need to be made from the media center, industrial technology or social studies, Savage said.

"The other thing is ... we're in the same situation next year, we're already looking toward next year," Savage said. "Come next year, we'd be looking at foreign languages again."

This is not unique; this is all over, Safratowich said.

"All these cuts are terrible," Carlson said. "I don't think German is any worse than what's happening to the elementary school or anything else on the campus."

But she wants to know what the plan is for students who are already enrolled for German.

"If you say 37 kids are going to be online and that cost is a lot, and we're only saving a small amount, is that going to be a good cut," Carlson asked.

Dodge said he had the same concerns about the cost.

The board first voted on approving all the proposed cuts but it was a tie vote and failed. Safratowich, Gauldin and Savage voted in favor of the motion. Carlson, Dodge and David Otterness voted against the motion.

Carlson made a motion to approve the proposed cuts except for the German position, tabling that issue until a special meeting next week. Carlson, Dodge, Otterness and Savage voted in favor of that motion. Safratowich and Gauldin voted against the motion.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, April 27 to discuss the German position. Judson was asked to come with a plan and costs for what to do with students already signed up for German. Others will have the opportunity to make presentations at the meeting in case the board decides to go another route with the cuts.

At a future meeting, the school board will need to make a decision on about $100,000 in additional cuts to non-certified areas such as transportation, co-curricular and technology.