The Faribault School Board heard the community loud and clear about a plan to move the Faribault Area Learning Center to Faribault High School. And the message was a strong lack of support.
The possibility was presented to the board during its Feb. 8 meeting in preparation for making unavoidable budget adjustments for the academic year 2021-22, a result of inadequate state funding and a sharp enrollment decline. The district faces a $2.2 million deficit, and while federal COVID-19 relief funding offsets about $850,000, the board still needed to make significant adjustments to bring things into balance.
The board approved roughly $1 million in budget adjustments during Monday’s meeting, including reductions of five elementary teachers, two custodians, four middle school teachers, one high school teacher, one cultural liaison, and, with a decrease in newcomer students, two English Language teachers. Based on a 4-3 vote, the board decided to table the decision to move the ALC to the high school and give the administration two weeks to explore alternatives. Voting against the motion were Chair Chad Wolff and Board members Courtney Cavellier and Casie Steeves.
The district currently spends about $500,000 more than it brings in on the ALC annually, according to Superintendent Todd Sesker. Projections indicate a further decrease in enrollment.
And the building where it’s housed needs a broiler and HVAC renovations in the years ahead. If the board votes against moving the ALC, the district would need to spend around $300,000 in reserves for the 2021-22 school year and re-evaluate a potential move in the future.
The Faribault High School administration team has developed a plan for the ALC students should the program shift to the high school campus. These students would have their own parking lot, entrance/exit and hallway, and have access to the cafeteria and various elective classrooms. They would also have access to programs and resources they couldn’t access as conveniently from the ALC.
But in the weeks since discussion of the potential move, board members received numerous emails and messages from ALC graduates, parents and community members overwhelmingly in opposition to the change. According to board member Carolyn Treadway, the feedback suggests the location of the high school is the biggest concern. Many believe the ALC’s current separation from the high school allows students to start fresh if negative experiences prompted them to leave FHS.
In accepting recognition for her Minnesota Teacher of the Year nomination during Monday’s meeting, ALC art teacher Jackie Jarvis also asked the board to consider an alternative.
“I don’t think anyone has spent a lot of time in our building to see what it is that we really do,” Jarvis said. “So I implore you to at least learn a bit more about our school before you make the decision on the best place for us to be so our students are impacted to a lesser degree if they do have to be moved. It really is about the kids … We don’t want to lose one student. We don’t want to see one student drop out of our high school.”
Treadway made the motion to delay the agenda item until the next board meeting on March 8, allowing the district to conduct a more in-depth exploration of the best place for ALC students. The board would then consider the new information in voting for the next step.
Board members voiced varying perspectives on the motion to table the agenda item. Board Chair Chad Wolff said he struggles with “kicking the can down the road,” thinking ahead to budget cuts the district will likely need to make in future years.
Board member Courtney Cavellier also approached the vote with the understanding that the current ALC building will need to close in the future, unless the district spends $5 million to renovate the McKinley Early Learning Center after it transitions programming to Roosevelt Elementary.
“I think it disingenuous of us to push it off,” Cavellier said.
If the ALC doesn’t move to the high school, the board discussed the likelihood of being able to move the program to the Faribault Education Center, which houses adult education classes.
According to Faribault Community Education Director Anne Marie Leland, the FEC is exploring options for integration of ALC programming with adult education. Many adult education students are ALC and FHS students who didn’t graduate on time, she said.
After the board approved staff reductions, Board member Richard Olson made a new motion relating to administration cuts.
Olson’s initial motion was to reduce the communications director position, but Wolff said he believed a recommendation like that should come from Sesker. Olson then moved to reduce administrative costs in $250,000, which failed.
Ultimately, Robicheau put the final motion on the table to direct administration to identify $125,000 in administrative budget cuts and bring options forward at the March 8 board meeting. The motion passed 4-3 with Cavellier, Steeves and Wolff voting nay.
Cavellier said she couldn’t support the motion so late in the meeting and so late in the board’s process of looking into budget adjustments. She explained the poor timing in relation to the changes ahead for the district, including the potential shift of ALC programming to the high school. Additionally, she pointed out that Sesker had already looked into potential budget adjustments in administration along with the other departments.
“In December, when we saw the audit report from Clifton Larson Allen, they said our administrative proportion of our budget was right in line with others,” Wolff said. “Once again I’m going to go back to trust our administrative team to make these cuts the least painful as possible.”
Robicheau said he appreciated that issue but added: “We’re sitting here tonight for several hours cutting several teachers out of our system who work directly with students on a regular basis, a daily basis … Our enrollment is declining, and so we’re sitting here saying that we’re going to have the same administrative makeup for less students when we’re cutting over nine FTEs (full-time equivalent) for classroom teachers. That’s my concern.”