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Frazee school board debates $225,000 in cuts

FRAZEE - Frazee-Vergas School Superintendent Deron Stender says making a 2009-10 budget is based on a "big assumption" due to too many variables not yet decided.

Not knowing how the 2009 state legislative session is going to end, Stender said the district doesn't know if funding per pupil will be cut, what percentage of funds will be given to the district at what time, or a mixture of both.

"It's a big assumption, because no one knows where it's going to be," he said at Monday evening's school board meeting.

He added that the House of Representatives is proposing that rather than giving districts their funding at 90 percent for one school year and 10 percent the following year, it would be closer to a 75-25 percent split.

The Senate, he said, is proposing a cut per pupil in funding. About $6 million of the district's budget comes from the state.

Board member Dwight Cook asked instead of percentages, what would the cuts be in terms of dollars.

"Percentages are one thing, but dollars are what people pay their bills with," Cook said.

The board approved a first reading of proposed cost containments and revenue enhancements with a 4-3 vote, but not before nearly an hour of discussion.

"The data used is very elastic," Stender said, using a PowerPoint presentation to show where the school would be making cuts.

"Frazee is not unique to this," he added, saying other districts are pointing out a decline in enrollment, paranoia, loss of morale, public relations and efficient operations as concerns.

He also added that Frazee-Vergas is not the only district that passed a referendum and is now looking at cost containments.

He admitted it was his mistake to not have looked ahead a few years ago to see that the school would be making cuts, and that he should have told board members earlier.

The district is looking at reductions to meet the needs of students. "That doesn't mean wants, but needs," he said.

"Students are our primary focus and we need to keep that in mind," Principal Brian Koslofsky said.

Stender said passing the referendum was necessary to stabilize the district, and the commitment was for curriculum, technology and buildings.

During the presentation, Koslofsky pointed out that 32 classes have 15 or fewer students in them. Those classes will either be dropped or offered every other year. Other classes will be arranged to increase class size and allow the district to eliminate a couple teaching positions to save money.

The proposed cuts include a full-time special education instructor, full-time English instructor, full-time social studies instructor and a full-time math instructor. The proposal will also include eliminating one full-time guidance counselor.

"I think cutting three core teachers is a mistake," board member Keith Janu said.

According to a report from Koslofsky, over 200 kids are getting Ds or Fs in seventh through 12th grade. Janu said he feels that if class sizes are increased, it will only make those numbers increase as well.

"In selling the referendum, that is something we promised the taxpayers," he said of smaller class sizes.

Board member Rich Ziegler said as a committee member he's "been on the fence" about the cuts and has concerns about them as well.

"This isn't taken lightly," Cook said. "I trust the committee."

"But I'm already telling you I don't agree with it even though I was on the committee," Ziegler said.

He said originally the committee was led to believe the district was overstaffed in those areas being cut, but now he's not so sure that's the case.

Cook said the school is operating with the same amount of counselors as it did when enrollment was at 1,300. With enrollment cut to one-third of that, he said, he doesn't see a problem with cutting a guidance counselor position.

One student stood and read a statement about how the guidance counselors at the school had helped her, and that they are there for much more than helping with scheduling classes.

Board member Steve Jepson said the "overall image of the school" is taking a hit when class sizes increase after the referendum is passed, and that the district is "being perceived as a teeter totter."

If a couple more students come into the district and a teacher needs to be added, then the following year numbers are down a couple students so a teacher is cut, the district isn't going to have many people applying for jobs. The perception will be that they will likely be losing their jobs the following year, he explained.

The proposed cuts and revenue enhancements -- which include an increase to breakfast and lunch fees -- figure out to about $224,045 for the district.

Cook, Dana Laine, Nancy Dashner and Kathy Kallis voted in favor of passing the first reading and sending it back to committee, with Jepson, Ziegler and Janu voting in opposition.

Giving notice to those teachers that may be affected if the cuts go forward also barely passed, with the same four voting in favor and same three voting opposed, because they don't think the cuts should be made.

Teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs include Olivia Hoff, English; Tom Johnson, social studies; Cody Geiser, math; Jamie Nelson, counseling; and Bardie Skjonsberg, psychologist.