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Residents React to Impacts on Stillwater Schools if Levy Fails: 'This List Stinks'

Stillwater Area School District officials told concerned residents this week if the $11 million levy is not renewed in November, budget cuts will hit the classroom.

It may be an off-year election, but there’s going to be a lot at stake for Stillwater schools when voters head to the polls this November.

An operating levy that provides $11 million to Stillwater area schools each year expires in 2014.

That — coupled with $22 million in cuts over the past 12 years and an expected $4-6 million shortfall as a result of flat state funding and rising costs — means the school district stands to lose nearly 20 percent of its annual revenue.

When that happens, budget cuts hit the classroom — and that was the greatest concern expressed by about 100 parents who attended two Town Hall meetings this week at the district's junior high schools.

In three words one resident summed up what many attending the meetings were thinking: “This list stinks.”

“In the past we’ve tried very, very hard to keep cuts away from students, but with an $11 million levy expiring there just isn’t enough to cut in other areas,” Community Engagement Coordinator Carissa Keister told the School Board on Thursday night.

Class sizes, student programming and learning interventions were clearly the biggest concerns for those attending the town hall meetings.

Residents questioned what losing music programs, all-day kindergarten and elective courses would mean for the district —and expressed concern that cuts to learning interventions would create bigger gaps between successful learners and those who are struggling.

Other talkers were the possibility of a four-day school week, general safety if school resource officers or security contracts are cut, transportation and ability to retain quality staff members in the midst of budget cuts.

RELATED: Final Town Hall Meeting Tonight: What's at Stake Without Levy Renewal?

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“As residents learned more about the new strategic plan, there was a lot of excitement about it, but concern that we may not be able to actually implement our plan fully if we don’t have the resources,” Keister said.

Residents told school officials they should continue to increase efficiencies across the district and evaluate employee compensation and benefits.

Community members also suggested the district increase its grant writing, utilize volunteers to help in the classroom, sell ad space on school resources and reduce the number of extra-curricular offerings at the high school.

Residents also encouraged the district to look at enrollment numbers, and depending on what is found, consider restructuring or closing a school.

Discussions about charging a fee for all-day kindergarten were prevalent, as were concerns about how the district communicates information to the public.

The school district has a lot of work to do, Superintendent Corey Lunn said. It will be important to get information out to voters, so people know the issues and understand what is at stake for Stillwater schools.

A scientific survey will be sent out to about 500 district residents in the coming weeks to give the School Board an idea of what the community may be willing to support before drafting the questions for a levy request.

The School Board will meet for an all-day workshop on March 2 (open to the public) and will approve a list of potential cuts if the levy isn’t renewed during their March 7 meeting.

A levy decision will be made by the Board on April 11.

“Last time we did this, we did not have the list of reductions. We didn’t have an idea if we were going to ask for more money, and what we were trying to do. We were trying to do this in July—and we came within one percent," Lunn said. "By the way, only 40 percent of our parents voted.

“Now, we’ve got this," he continued. You know what there is to lose, and how your money was invested. We’re going to tell you how we’re going to grow, and we’re starting in April, so we have time to our community’s parents about what we value in our schools.”

Bradley Johnson February 26, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Not a surprising position for Markus, given that he's practiced home schooling and advocating for non-schooling. There are plenty of people in the district who don't believe in altruism, although most of those don't have kids in the school system. Fortunately, there are more who see value in the pursuit of higher standards that attracts like-minded families to the Stillwater district. Having said that, support should not be interpreted as carte blanche for the district to get whatever money it is asking for without confronting issues about salary and benefits. For public relations considerations alone, you simply can't take 77 percent of the budget off the table and focus on cuts to the other 23 percent. It's not a matter of jealousy like Mr. Pentland would have you believe. It's a matter of reality when the financial alarm is being sounded.
Markus February 26, 2013 at 08:53 PM
"Then what do you consider hyperbole like "imprison their kids," "state-of-the-art daycare centers," threatening to confiscate their homes" and "forcing their neighbor to at gunpoint"?" It's hardly hyperbolic. It's taking each of those statements to their logical end. Try not complying with the compulsory attendance laws or not paying your taxes. Eventually the government shows up with guns. With the advent of ECFE, the government now has the opportunity to "educate" your child from birth on. Do we really need the government to provide education for infants and toddlers? Anybody with Google can see home school children score significantly higher and typically school for 3 hours a day. The education establishment has attempted to convince us they need the kids for 7 or 8 hours a day for 18 years to produce "educated" people. It's just not the case. If it were not for the built in daycare aspect of government education, most parents would be in a quandary. Again, that's not exaggerating, it's a hard truth for most addicted to the government school paradigm. It's also ironic that the state offers daycare subsidies mostly to mothers who work outside the home, but those that choose to stay home and raise/educate their children get nothing. As always government has their priorities backwards. Rather than encouraging a traditional parenting model, the state discourages it by subsidizing the opposite.
Markus February 26, 2013 at 09:07 PM
"Exactly which communities with strong property values have poor schools and which areas where houses are cheap have good schools, Markus?" You're suggesting that "good" schools result in high property values. I would argue the inverse is true. Affluence will always have a positive affect due to more financial resources and parental involvement. Allow parents to opt out of the system (that means taking their dollars with them) and you'd see for profit or private schools pop up all over the place. St. Croix Prep is still a public school. The fact that it's wildly popular would suggest people are desperate for alternatives. That being said St. Croix Prep is hardly a panacea.
Keith Owens February 26, 2013 at 09:51 PM
I don't think that's the "logical end" for most people, Markus. You seem to build your arguments around your paranoid perception of being forced to do things by the government. I wasn't forced to take my kids to ECFE, but I certainly took advantage of the opportunity to meet and interact with other parents while my children were in their "indoctrination" sessions. Or, as ECFE called it, play time. There's nothing wrong with home schooling, but it's simply not practical for most families where both parents are forced to work (not by the government, but by their creditors). We're "addicted to the government school paradigm" of 7 to 8 hours a day because it conveniently coincides with the typical work day. By "traditional parenting model," I assume you mean the father works outside the home for financial gain and the mother stays home with the kids. I was fortunate enough to be home with four kids until they were old enough for school. And I would disagree that parents who choose to stay home and raise their children get nothing. I think the experience and the memories are priceless. If we subsidize anything, we should subsidize professionals who specialize in educating our children and guiding them through a broad range of experiences they could never get at home or on the Internet. Oh yeah, we already do that.
tax payer March 01, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Looks like no need for a levy - Yahoo................... Minnesota deficit forecast shrinks: St. Paul Pioneer Press 3-1-2013... The forecast was especially good news for schools. It projects a $295 million fund balance in Minnesota's treasury at the end of the current fiscal year June 30. State law requires $290 million of that money go to pay off part of the $1.1 billion the state owes schools in delayed payments.

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