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Moorhead school board announces more job cuts

Kate Nelson reacts as she and Horizon Middle School eighth-grade classmates Melissa Duginski and Noah Johnson hold signs in support of their English teacher Karen Taylor on Monday at the Moorhead School Board meeting. Taylor was one of the full-time teachers whose contracts were terminated because of budget cuts. (Dave Wallis/The Forum)

MOORHEAD - Moorhead music teacher Pam Redlinger smiled for a photo with Superintendent Lynne Kovash and a student, a clarinet player who made it into a state honors band.

Then she slipped out of Monday's School Board meeting before members voted to terminate her contract along with those of five other tenured teachers.

English teacher Karen Taylor stuck around and scored hugs from a group of eighth-graders who held up placards spelling out "We heart Mrs. Taylor." One of the students also got hugs from her classmates when she burst into tears after the vote.

It was another somber meeting of the Moorhead School Board, which has now cut the full-time equivalent of roughly 32 positions as part of $4.5 million in budget reductions this spring.

"This is a very sad time," Human Resources Director Ron Nielsen said, "because reducing positions - particularly of tenured teachers - is a very painful thing."

Tenured teachers have generally worked in the district at least three years.

The board also terminated Melanie Aamodt, the district's director of curriculum and professional development. Her duties will be spread out among the superintendent, assistant superintendent and teacher coaches.

The other teachers who were terminated Monday are Kelsy Jenkins, social studies; Jennifer Nelson, art; Diane Wicklund, business; and Melissa Wiese, music. A seventh teacher on the original list, Kristi Cameron, retired last week, Nielsen said.

He said retirements helped round out the number of eliminated teaching positions to the planned 37.

Two of the teachers, Jenkins and Nelson, will be offered part-time contracts.

Nielsen said Aamodt's departure, on April 15, was part cost-saving measure and part a matter of her and the district not being "a good fit." Under state statute, Minnesota districts don't have to give probationary employees such as Aamodt a reason for termination.

Aamodt moved back to the area from California to start the position, formerly an assistant superintendent-level job held by Kovash, in October. She was paid about $63,000.

Moorhead parent Kirk Moss, who attended the meeting with his daughter, said he sent an e-mail to one board member urging a "no" vote on the tenured teacher cuts unless the administrative team undergoes reductions as well.

Tenured teacher cuts without reductions in administration and central office positions might hurt the district's chances of passing a levy referendum in the fall, Moss wrote.

Nielsen said parent feedback didn't play a major part in the decision to let Aamodt go.

Board members did not discuss the terminations during the meeting. Member Lisa Erickson read a brief statement on behalf of the board saying they didn't want to cut teachers, but, "Our financial situation requires the reduction of very valuable teachers in the school district."