Clock running on St. Paul schools budget

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 4, 2011 - 10:45 PM

The district must decide in the next couple of weeks how to cut $25 million from its expenses.

St. Paul school principals face some difficult decisions in the coming weeks as the district looks to cut $25 million from its budget.

Those decisions will determine class sizes, the makeup of staff and, in some instances, who may be laid off.

"With limited resources, we have to be smart," said Jaber Alsiddiqui, the district's chief budget analyst. "We need to be aware of our needs and how we distribute these resources."

Cuts were also handed to several departments. That included $11 million the central administration will have to absorb, through reductions in jobs as well as its overall operating budget.

The district expects to have about $462.2 million in its general fund next year. That number could change depending on what the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton decide about the state's budget in the coming weeks.

Schools will receive $221.2 million, or 48 percent of the district's general fund, in operating revenue under the district's current proposal.

The administration proposed laying off 304 employees, 167 who were hired with federal stimulus funds. Another 82 cuts will be made by principals while 55 support personnel and administrative positions will be eliminated.

Schools were allocated money based on their need. Schools with more than 71 percent of their students living at the poverty level get more money per student, plus schools with lower test scores also get additional funding in order to keep their class sizes smaller.

Alsiddiqui said the basis for that formula is the district's goal of closing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and white students by 2014, and because those schools get extra federal funding through the Title I grant.

Principals got some guidance in deciding how to split their school's funds next year based on formulas from the district. Principals could staff their schools based on positions that are required and others that are flexible.

Required positions are those mandated either by the superintendent, state or federal law. That would include teachers, a clerk, a principal and a counselor. One counselor is required for every 700 students in elementary schools and one for every 400 students in high schools.

The number of teachers at a school is based on a range of class sizes the administration established this year. In the lower grades, sizes ranged from 27 students in a kindergarten class to 30 students in sixth-grade classrooms. A high school class could have as many as 35 students.

For schools with low test scores or high poverty rates, the maximum number of students allowed per classroom was fewer.

Some parents have been under the impression that the district has been trying to curtail the number of school nurses. Administrators, however, said they've spent $1.2 million more on school medical personnel this year.

All elementary schools will be required to have a school nurse for half a day. Secondary schools will be required to have one full-time nurse.

"They have to provide health services," said Sharon Freeman, elementary assistant superintendent. "They can't get out of it."

Principals also have a list of flexible positions they can fill if they have money remaining after filling the required positions. Those positions include data clerks, librarians, assistant principals and intervention specialists.

School officials also gave principals the option of hiring an "intervention coach" next year. That could be interpreted to mean a coach for gifted and talented students or a coach for students who are behind in reading or math, for example.

Principals also have the option to spend that money on staffing more required positions instead of the flexible positions: adding a full-time nurse at the elementary level, for example, or an extra high school math teacher that would reduce class sizes.

While site councils can advise principals on how to spend the money, they have no legal authority.

"In the end, the principals are the ones who are legally accountable for their school," Freeman said.

The board is set to vote on the budget at its June 21 meeting.

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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