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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune
  • Budget cuts bring pleas and tears at Yellow Medicine East High School

  • Impassioned pleas and tears resonated through the YME boardroom as the school board proposed cut after cut for the 2012-2013 school year. The agenda listed total cuts of $488,000.  Superintendent Al Stoeckman addressed the board and the public prior to the budget discussion. He explained that...
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  • Impassioned pleas and tears resonated through the YME boardroom as the school board proposed cut after cut for the 2012-2013 school year.
    The agenda listed total cuts of $488,000.  Superintendent Al Stoeckman addressed the board and the public prior to the budget discussion. He explained that the cuts were needed due to the projected reduced revenue in 2012-2013. “We get about $9,000 in revenue for each student. At the beginning of this year we had 829 students enrolled. Next fall we project an enrollment of 783 students. That is a deficit of $315,000.” He went on and explained the loss of an additional $100,000 in revenue.  “The good news is that we have fewer students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. The bad news is that we have fewer students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.” The fact that there are fewer students in the district who qualify for free and reduced lunch translates into the loss of an additional $100,000 in revenue.  “I was charged with providing the board with $400,000 in reductions, there are $448,000 in proposed cuts. The decision for the recommendations is on my shoulders.”
        Like the calm before a storm, the first indication of the impending dilemmas was an extended silence when board chair Grant Velde asked for a motion to revise the graduation requirement of a one-half credit in computer  applications as part of the required 24 credits to an elective credit. Stoeckman indicated that the credit was a local requirement and not required by the state.  He also stated that technology would be imbedded into courses with classroom teachers responsible for teaching the technology needed to complete the course work.  As Velde called for a motion time after time he was met with silence from the board. Finally, he indicated, “Let’s move on.”
        Board member Steve Zumhofe asked what moving on meant.  Stockeman said that the one-half credit would continue to be required meaning that every student in the district would need to take at least one computer application class.  With the retention of the required computer one-half credit, the proposal to cut the position of tenured computer and business teacher, Darlys Listul, that was on the proposed cut list, was not listed separately on the agenda.
        The board approved placing high school counselor Val Skjefte on Unrequested Leave of Absence. The action shifts the duties of the half time high school counselor to other unnamed personnel. The ULA will save the district $25,000.
        The board approved the reduction of media paraprofessional Kristie Klassen. Those duties will shift to technology coordinator Karen Londgren and Carolyn Olson, elementary media center staff. The board was assured that the media center would continue to be open to students at 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The savings to the district is $25,000.
        Undercurrents of skepticism undulated through the room when the motion to reduce the 504 Coordinator/Tutor/Academic Support position, currently held by Denine Rutledge, to half time was brought to the floor.              YME has applied for a grant that could provide tutoring before and after school and any non-school days. The grant, however, cannot be used to offset the costs for services performed during the academic day.              Several students and adults in the room spoke passionately on how Rutledge has been a major player tutoring marginal students and guiding them to successful graduation. Zach Juarez spoke for the students. He shared an email and told the board there were over 100 posts on Facebook about how important Rutledge is to the students’ success. He shared that many students feel that the resource room is the only safe spot in the school.  “They don’t like the teachers and can’t learn from them. They can learn from Denine.”
    Page 2 of 4 -     Parents and other adults stated that it was important for the tutoring to be during the academic day and the after school grant would not meet the student needs, Kathleen Pruess summed up her support for Rutledge with the statement, “If you make this cut, you’re making a huge mistake. You’re not thinking of the kids.”  High school student Roxanna Trevino reiterated the need for tutoring during the academic day.  “Students have jobs and sports,” said Trevino, “After school is just not an option.”  She went on to say that YME has many great teachers and that the majority of the students feel safe in school and connect with the teachers. “With Denine it’s a different level of connection, it’s a personal connection.”  With her voice breaking and tears in her eyes, another student spoke up to share that she is in three sports and even spends her lunch period with Denine and that the need for tutoring is during the academic day.
        Deb Beckler shared that the impact of reducing tutoring during the academic day will have a negative impact on the district.  “If the students don’t get what they need they will go to independent study or bus over to the ALC in Monte.”  The implication is that the district will lose the revenue of the students who seek an alternative educational path.
        Board member Steve Zumhofe shared correspondence from High School Principal Karen Norell that stated that eight students graduated this spring who would not have if it had not been for the tutoring services provided by the Rutledge. “Eight students at $9,000 – that’s $72,000.”
        The vote to reduce the 504 position split 3 -3 with Steve Rupp, Shelly Weir and Tim Opdahl in favor of the reduction and Jane Hagert, Dawn Odegard and Steve Zumhofe opposed to the reeducation. The tie breaking vote was cast by board chair Grant Velde. Velde’s facial expression and body language showed he was giving considerable thought to his decision.  Finally he said, “I’m opposed.”  The $15,000 savings projected by reducing the 504 position was no longer a part of the cuts. Students will have access to tutoring throughout the entire academic day.
        Impassioned pleas and data relating to the proposed reductions in the office and supervisory positions were presented to the board. High School Administrative Assistant Deb Beckler shared data going back to 2003-2004 showing that student numbers have increased from 385 in grades 9 -11 to 473 students in grades 6 -12 for 2012-2013 school year.  She pointed out that there still has not been a determination of how the guidance counselor’s job responsibilities will be covered and there will be a transition period with the new principals that will take additional time.  Beckler asked the board to table the motion on the cuts until the needs are determined. While Elementary Administra-tive Assistant Kathy Anderson made it clear to the board that she loves her job and loves working with the kids; she works from 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m; does not take a morning or afternoon break and eats lunch at her desk. She told the board that they are adding more work with 160 less hours. “What this tells me is that a person who goes above and beyond is getting a kick in the head.”
    Page 3 of 4 -     Board member Tim Opdahl shared, “We’re in a tough financial position…none of this is easy.”  He went on to say that the cuts came up in the eleventh hour and that even though the reductions weren’t meant to be personal, “It is personal.”  The reality is that not only will the work still need to be done, the total in savings to the district will come directly from the employees’ salaries.
        The board voted unanimously to reduce office and supervisory positions: Liz Deblieck – elementary administrative assistant - reduced to 7.5 hours/day; Deb Beckler – high school administrative assistant and Kathy Anderson – elementary administrative assistant - reduced to 240 days; Terri Peterson - district accounting - reduced to 240 days; Jean Feldman – community education and athletic office assistant reduced to 240 days; supervisory, confidential, custodial staff reduced 4 days in July.
        Questions concerning cuts to the American Indian liaison program staff were unanswered.  Once the proposal to cut the American Indian liaisons, Helen Blue-Redner and Berta Bjerkeset, to 174 days to make the number of days that the Hispanic liaisons and the Indian liaisons consistent, Berta Bjerkeset asked, “How is this going to save the district money?”  She then
    went on to say the positions are funded by a federal grant, and that how to allocate dollar amounts of the grant has not been determined for 2012-2013.  She requested that the motion be tabled until the dollar amount is determined.  Stoeckman reiterated that the cuts were identified to make the hours of all the liaisons consistant.  Stoeckman indicated to the board that the issue can be brought back to the agenda in the future. The board approved the reductions in the American Indian liaison program.  
        As the quagmire continued to grow, board member Steve Zumhofe requested that the board revisit the proposed budget cut list for clarification.  After beginning a line item review of the cuts, frustrations and fears boiled to the surface.  Finance committee member Jane Hagert pointed out that if budget cuts are not made the $1,673,507 in the projected fund balance would be reduced to 0 by 2017.  A fast and furious dialogue ensued between Zumhofe and the other board members.  Zumhofe questioning the proposed cuts, other board members repeating that cuts have to be made.  Finally Zumhofe stated, “I’m not disagreeing with making cuts, I’m disagreeing with how we are picking and choosing what we’re deciding to cut.” He went on to share that he personally feels that there are ‘sacred cows’ in the district when cuts are being determined.  Board member Hagert asked for clarification. Zumhofe picked up a copy of the student registration for 2012-2013 and asked if they had looked at the number of kids signed up in the classes.  He shared that there were over 60 students signed up in computer application classes, yet the business department has been identified as a cut. He asked if the district intends to hire a full time Spanish teacher. When the answer was yes, he pointed out that there were only enough students enrolled to offer three Spanish classes.  “That’s not even enough sections for a half time teacher.”  He also took a stab at the ag classes and the low number of students enrolled in ag classes for next year. He questioned why the cuts are not driven by the student enrollment numbers.
    Page 4 of 4 -     Another problem facing the 2012-2013 budget is tied to the fate of H.A. Hagg. When the budget discussions began, the possibility of selling the H.A. Hagg building was promising, since then the plan to sell the building has fallen through.  Board member Grant Velde informed the board that the building and grounds committee is recommending that sealed bids to sell the building should be called for in August. If the building is not sold, the maintenance costs of $41,000 will have to remain in the budget.
        A huge gap between the budget cuts and the proposed budget cuts exists after all the action items were voted on.  The gap includes: The proposed cut of tenured teacher Darlys Listul, computer technology and business, at $75,000; the cost of operating the H.A. Hagg building for 2012-2013 at $41,000 and the retention of the 504 Coordinator as a full time position at $15,000. The total is $131,000 short of the proposed $488,000 in cuts.
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