Osseo School District will cut $3.1 million next year and consider putting levies on ballot again

The Osseo School Board has decided to make $3.1 million in cuts next school year. It will also consider putting operating and technology levies on the ballot again in November.

The four board members present at a Feb. 19 work session agreed to pursue only the first of four levels of proposed cuts next year. That means there will be about $3.1 million in reductions, including about $575,000 of reductions to “align staffing” with declining enrollment. Board members Tammie Epley and Jackie Girtz were absent.

A list of items to be cut next year wasn’t finalized Feb. 19. The board was expected to further discuss what it will cut at a work session Feb. 27 and to approve the cuts March 5.

With a seemingly good chance of increased education funding from the state legislature and the possibility of a levy being approved, board members hoped the district wouldn’t have to continue making deeper cuts.

Because of the upheaval at the state level and the impact it could have, School Board Chair Dean Henke said he was in a “wait-and-see mode.”

Director Teresa Lunt agreed.

“I am comfortable going with the level one reductions,” she said.

Director Linda Etim said she would support the level one cuts as long as the board could reconsider the cuts if the situation improved more drastically than expected.

Director Jim Burgett said he would support only making level one cuts next year, but reminded the board that the district is operating at a deficit and that even after cutting $3.1 million, it will still be losing money if nothing else changes.

Henke echoed Burgett’s concerns. He pointed out the district has been using the planning assumption that costs will rise 3.75 percent annually.

“What we’re saying is we’re building in a 3.75 percent growth, and in the same meeting we’re talking about cutting millions of dollars,” he said.

The board is considering trying to contain that cost growth to 3.25 percent. But Henke suggested looking for cost-containment measures to shave off another half a percent and hold growth to 2.75 percent in order to make the budget “more sustainable.”

All four board members present said they’d be willing to consider asking voters to approve both operating and technology levies in November. An operating levy and a tech levy in the ballot both failed by a narrow margin in November. The operating levy was defeated by 116 votes. The tech levy failed by 2,287 votes.

Board members seemed to think the public might vote differently now that significant cuts are being made and voters see what’s at stake.

“I’ve heard a lot from parents (and) staff who really want another shot,” Lunt said.

Summary of community feedback

The board also received an overview of community feedback about the budget cuts. The feedback was collected through three public forums and comments emailed to the district.

Tom Watkins, coordinator of research, assessment and accountability, pointed out that parents in Maple Grove were disproportionately represented at the forums, compared to the number of Maple Grove students in the district and that Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park were underrepresented. The forums were not scientific, and all were welcome to participate.

When considering all messages from all sources, results showed the most common comment was “don’t cut orchestra.” The level one cuts originally called for cutting fifth-grade orchestra teachers, which would mean orchestra wouldn’t start until sixth grade.

Other comments received at least 30 times included:

• Don’t cut music eduction coordinator.
• Cut administration.
• Don’t cut wrestling coaches.
• Don’t cut teachers.
• Don’t cut gifted education coordinator.
• Raise revenue through fees (on athletics, instruments, arts, books and rentals).

Supt. Kate Maguire said many suggested raising fees on athletics, but she said even raising fees by 75 percent would have a relatively small impact on the budget.

The district also looked at which comments were most common at each community forum.

At Maple Grove Senior High, the most common comment was “Don’t cut wrestling coaches.”

At Osseo Senior High, the most common were “Cut administration”; “Don’t cut gifted education coordinator”; and “Don’t cut music education coordinator.”

At Park Center Senior High, the most common comment was “Cut administration.”

Changes to proposed levels of cuts

In response to community feedback, staff revised the recommended cuts at each of the four levels.

Staff recommended removing the following cuts from level one:

• Gifted education academic challenge coaches (moved to level two)
• Three wrestling coaches (moved to level four)
• Fifth-grade orchestra teachers (moved to level two)
• Equivalent of 0.9 full-time occupational therapy positions (cut no longer being considered)

Here are the cuts staff proposed adding to level one:

• Eliminate a second technology support position (new proposal)
• Restructure the media and interschool delivery services (moved from level two)
• Reduce testing support at sites (moved from level three)
• Reduce activities supply budget by 20 percent (moved from level four)
• Reduce transportation to in-district educational programming, such as at the Osseo Area Learning Center (new proposal)

The dollar amount of cuts at each level would remain about the same, with level one cuts totalling approximately $3.1 million. Levels two and three would each cut about $1 million, and level four about $6.2 million.

The school board planned to discuss the list of level one cuts further at a work session Feb. 27.

Video of the Feb. 19 work session and a detailed list of changes to the proposed levels of cuts are available at district279.org.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]