Burnsville-Eagan-Savage looks to beef up social and student services

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2014 - 2:00 PM

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District is dipping into its fund balance to add social workers and special education supervisors.

After years of budget cuts, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District is moving toward a budget that puts more money into social and student services, in the form of more social workers, special education supervisors and cultural liaisons.

If the budget is formally adopted in June, the district will also hire an instructional technology coordinator and a diversity director, both new positions.

The preliminary 2014-15 budget includes expenditures of about $120.3 million, with about $115 million in revenue. That $5.3 million difference will be made up by dipping into its fund balance, leaving it at 10 percent of the district’s total expenditures, said Jim Schmid, board chairman.

Total expenditures budgeted for 2013-14 were about $115.4 million, said Lisa Rider, the district’s business services director.

The emphasis on services came after Superintendent Joe Gothard made the rounds last fall to talk with teachers, parents and students to determine what the district’s needs were. “Some of the [budget’s] highlights are really around what I’ll call wraparound support for students,” he said.

When he met with teachers, they were trying to meet a variety of students’ needs in their classrooms, but there were gaps in what they could do.

After making cuts to family support workers in 2011, the district added mental health professionals from Headway, a nonprofit, to provide on-site counseling that year. But “the problem is, we’re overwhelming Headway folks with social work-type needs,” Schmid said.

The four new elementary school social workers will bring the total to eight, divided among 10 schools. Headway counselors will remain on staff.

The budget dedicates $289,000 for special education “leads” to coordinate case management and training at the building level, Gothard said. That includes a full-time high school position, half-time positions at junior highs and stipends for elementary school and Early Childhood Special Education staff who take on the roles.

New leadership, liaison positions

The district also will add two new leadership positions: an instructional technology coordinator and a director of diversity and integrated services. The technology coordinator will help teachers determine best practices for teaching with technology and coordinate technology-related professional development, while the diversity director will lead the district’s cultural liaisons and generally ensure that equity is consistent, Gothard said.

“We should be talking about equity in everything that we do, and equity in our district right now is episodic,” he said.

The district will hire two more cultural liaisons as well. With 1,500 English language learners, liaisons help with language concerns of students and parents. But they also act as general resources, bridging cultural and racial gaps between a diverse student body and a staff that is largely white, he said.

Finally, the budget includes money for orchestra offerings, expansion of AVID college readiness programming and restoration of junior high athletics, Schmid said.

Getting an early start

While February is early to have preliminary budget recommendations approved, getting an early start was important so the district can post the new positions, Gothard said. “I’m really comfortable with the timing of everything.”

Schmid said that the process of creating a budget is always challenging, but it’s less stressful when a district doesn’t have to make drastic cuts, as it has done in recent years.

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