More than 50 people gathered at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo last week to identify the worst of $11 million in potential budget cuts that could face the Stillwater Area Public Schools in 2014-15.
The list included the elimination of up to 50 teaching positions, the possible closure of an elementary school and transportation cutbacks that would affect charter and private school students, too.
Eyeing a long sheet of reductions, Peter Schuna, father of a kindergarten student at Stonebridge Elementary in Stillwater, summed up the feelings of six people sitting near him with a terse statement: "The whole plan stinks," he said.
Later this year, however, voters can expect to see a levy proposal on the ballot that could block much if not all of the proposed reductions. School board members are working to put a new plan before voters because the district's current voter-approved levy — providing $11 million annually — is set to expire in June 2014.
Last week, community members were invited to two town hall meetings to get a better idea of how the $11 million is spent and what could be cut if a levy proposal were rejected. At Oak-Land last Tuesday, attendees then met in small groups to discuss what concerned them the most. The resulting discussions included advocacy for the as-yet-undefined levy proposal, prompting one man to tell district officials that they, clearly, were "preaching to the choir."
Superintendent Corey Lunn drew attention to one attendee, Andy Kubiak, who recently began efforts to build support for "strong schools" through a new group, The Valley Parent & Community Network. Information is available on the group's website.
Attendees also heard about the district's new 10-point strategic plan, which aims to carry out a mission to "develop curious individuals who are active and engaged leaders in an ever-changing world by challenging each student as he or she travels along their personalized learning pathway."
The objectives set forth in the strategic plan are expected to figure into the school board's levy deliberations, said Carissa Keister, a district spokeswoman. But, she said, it remained to be seen whether the new learning strategies would boost any resulting levy proposal beyond the current $11 million per year — or $996 per student.
The board is expected to hear the results of a levy-related community survey on March 21 in anticipation of an April 11 decision on what a final proposal might be.
Schuna expressed concern that 68 percent of the potential reductions would have direct impact on classrooms. The elimination of teachers would swell class sizes, attendees were told. The district also could lose as many as 25 student support positions, including special education teachers, reading specialists and counselors, if a levy is not renewed.
Further down the list were $190,000 in potential security cuts that could see the elimination of school resource officers at the two junior high schools and elimination of the private-security contract at Stillwater Area High School.
The school board planned to review the town-hall concerns before approving a tentative 2014-15 budget-reduction list.