Big Lake schools may lose 30 positions

  • Article by: MITCH ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2008 - 12:59 AM

The district must cut $2 million from its budget, and teaching jobs could bear the brunt.

Big Lake School District officials are putting the finishing touches on a plan that would slash about $2 million from the budget, eliminating more than 30 jobs.

The plan calls for a reduction of 21 full-time equivalent teaching positions out of 199 in the district. Also on the chopping block are 12.5 full-time support staff positions, ranging from assistant principals to custodians. Among teachers, the hardest hit subjects would be art, music, physical education and technology.

And although the number of teachers lost may come down before the decision is finalized at a special board meeting Thursday, school board chairman Tim Hayes said, "It's still a painful cut."

Hayes attributed the funding deficit to a combination of a weak economy, stagnant enrollment growth in the district and the state's budget condition in the past few years.

Those, combined with a failed operating levy last November that would have raised property taxes to offset the deficit, have made the cuts necessary, Hayes said.

Though the reductions may be painful, Hayes said the board is focused on keeping class sizes down. Elementary class sizes will see minimal increases, he said, and middle and high school classes will see about a 10 percent increase.

"The focus has really been on trying to protect that elementary class size, since it's so important to our community," he said.

Several teachers and parents, however, believe a disproportionate amount of cuts would come from the teaching force.

Mike Nagorski, a Big Lake Middle School science teacher, said teaching quality will suffer greatly if class sizes continue to swell.

"We have one math class in the middle school with 37 students in it right now, and they're saying there's going to be 10 to 15 percent increases," he said. "It's not teaching when you have 42 in the class, it's putting out fires."

Laura Swanson, a 14-year Big Lake resident whose three daughters attend school in the district, echoed Nagorski's sentiments. "The basis of an education is a student and a teacher. That's the last place cuts should be made," she said.

Swanson said she'd rather see positions such as administrators, coordinators and directors pooled together before any teaching positions are cut. She added that district officials weren't transparent enough in their decision-making process.

Cutbacks are nothing new to the district, Hayes noted. In the past four years, the district has cut $1.7 million in expenses.

"We're getting to the point where we're being squeezed too tight," he said. "The one thing everyone can agree on is that this isn't a good situation to be in."

Mitch Anderson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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