Last year, the Faribault School Board made budget cuts amounting to nearly $2 million. Additional cuts to the 2020-21 budgetwill be less this year, totaling about $1.5 million, but that won’t make decisions any easier.
“We know it’s going to be painful all around,” said Board Chair Chad Wolff. “…It’s not easy, and we recognize that, so we’re going to do the best we can.”
The need for budget cuts mirrors last year’s. Enrollment continues to decline, state funding hasn’t kept up with inflation and inadequate funding for special education has left the Faribault School District little choice but to use general funds to close the gap.
At its Monday meeting, the School Board examined various budget cut options in preparation for 2020-21. Financial Director Andrew Adams and Human Resources Director Nicole Yochum presented proposed budget adjustments for the board’s consideration. While no final decisions were made, the board will take these proposed adjustments into account before voting on the actual budget at its Feb. 24 meeting.
In response to continued declined enrollment in the district, Adams presented a budget proposal that reflects the projected enrollment for 2020-21. Since student enrollment is directly linked to revenue, school districts need to make adjustments to staffing.
Superintendent Todd Sesker said it’s safe to say teaching positions will be cut, as well as coaching positions. With lower enrollment at the schools as well as reduced participation in sports like baseball, softball and hockey, these cuts, he said, “make sense.”
But while some budget cuts easily remain on the list, other items prompted bigger discussions. The list of budget adjustments up for consideration had School Board members weighing the pros and cons of each potential cut, but for the most part, they realized almost every cut would present new conflicts for the district to handle.
One position up for consideration was the dean of students at Faribault Middle School. With declining enrollment, this cut would balance out the student to administrator ratio at the middle school. However, since student behavior showed improvements with the implementation of a dean of students at the middle school, the board was hesitant to remove that position. However, it remains on the list of potential cuts.
The position of the middle school’s athletic director was also up for consideration, but following discussion, the board agreed to remove it from the list.
Faribault High School Principal Jamie Bente, who attended the meeting, said FHS Athletic Director Keith Badger opposes that cut because there isn’t enough time for one athletic director to physically service both positions. The middle school athletic director also brings in many student athletes, who later transition into high school sports.
Another full-time position up for discussion was the role of a counselor at the Area Learning Center. If that position were cut, the high school would then need to share counselors with the ALC. Bente said sharing positions would not only put the ALC at a disadvantage, with no guarantee of students seeing the same counselor consistently, but also require the high school to back-fill positions.
The board also considered the disadvantages of removing the district’s instructional contract with River Bend Nature Center. If that contract was cut, staff would then need to create new curricula. The board eliminated the possibility from the budget adjustment list.
Only one cut was easy for the School Board to keep on the list: the decision to reduce the buildings and grounds contract with Pappe, the district’s maintenance provider, and instead hire an internal HVAC manager. The board saw this decision as beneficial as it would allow for a more proactive maintenance approach to take effect.
The board also discussed the possibility of combining the roles of equity coordinator and curriculum coordinator and reducing the English learner coordinator position by half. With fewer students in the Newcomer Program, the district may also eliminate a paraprofessional position associated with that program. Board members agreed these assets are valuable to the district, but they wanted to do more research before removing these items from the cut list.
Before the board decides whether or not to close the deficit spending gap of $1.5 million, members have one more chance to discuss the budget at the Tuesday, Feb. 18 board meeting.
“There isn’t one thing I want to change on this list,” said board member Carolyn Treadway. “So what is the poison we swallow?”