A year after Eastern Carver County Schools had to make $6 million in cuts, felt heavily with the loss of more than 32 full-time equivalent instructional positions, a second round of cuts and revenue enhancements was approved April 26 by the school board.
The 2021-22 school year budget will see cuts in:
- Instruction: $1.96 million. Middle schools will move to six-period day, reducing 4.28 FTE; soft salary freeze; and reduction of 1.2 FTE in Foreign Language and Music from elementary and high school levels
- Instructional Support: $330,000. Loss of 2.14 FTE paraprofessionals at middle and high schools; soft salary freeze.
- Special Education: $429,000. Soft salary freeze; supplies loss.
- Operations: $265,000. Bringing transportation in-house could save district $200,000; an increase in facility rental charges will result in $65,000 new dollars.
- Student Activities: $110,000. An increase of athletic and activity fees will generate more dollars for the district.
"With a few exceptions, there is an impact when we vote 'no' on referendums. And what's happening here is the kids' education is being affected. That's the bottom line," said Board Director Fred Berg, a former teacher. "What's most tragic is the fact that kids are getting cheated out of their best education they could receive."
The budget for 2021-22 will be officially adopted in June.
"This is certainly a place we don't want to be in. It's difficult to talk about these budgets cuts, these reductions. We strive to be a destination district and this is not where we want to be," said Board Chair Dr. Jeff Ross.
Ross acknowledged that the district is asking a lot of the teachers — really all staff, DeeDee Kahring, director of finance and operations for ECCS corrected. Ross said it is the job of the school board now to follow suit and figure out what the best course of plan lies ahead for a potential referendum so further cuts are not needed in coming years and the current "heavy lift," the words of Assistant Superintendent Erin Rathke, can return to normal levels.
Kahring said she has communicated with numerous stakeholders about the financial status of District 112. Common themes have developed in those conversations.
Enrollment decline: "I think people are surprised by our lack of enrollment this year, the loss of it I should say. About a 350 student loss. When you increase class size and you have a loss of students, it makes an impact on not only our capacity in our schools but also teachers we had already hired," she said. "We had already hired staffing for the next year. We put everyone to good use with distance learning, with hybrid learning, and everything else like that, but you can't react as quickly with enrollment losses and gains."
Money savings: "People always think we must have saved all sorts of money by not holding school. It's just the opposite. All of the COVID funds we received we used to offset the extra costs we had to incur for things like PPE, barriers you see here, hiring long-term substitutes for teachers that were sick or unable to teach because of a quarantine," Kahring said.
CARES Act dollars: "We can't fill the budget gap with the money we received from the CARES Act. Other government agencies were able to use it to make up from lost revenue, but ours is restricted in that use. We are extremely grateful for it. We were able to do some things, we were able to provide extra summer school enhancements for this summer. Mental health and other things that we had needs for," Kahring said.
The district began the process of exploring in-housing transportation in the summer of 2018. Doing so could save the district upward of $200,000.
In addition to leasing a percentage of the bus fleet, the district will be hiring 100 bus drivers, two dispatchers, three mechanics, and one transportation supervisor, fleet specialist and safety and compliance specialist for the contract year of July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
Jim O'Connell, director of administrative services, said the district will look to hire on many of the current drivers from Positive Connections. Though, as evidenced by billboards on empty buses each summer, more drivers are needed.
Positive Connections employees are being "grandfathered" in at current rate of pay and years of experience. New bus drivers with no experience start at $20.61/hour (training rate for 90 days) with the bus driver base rate set at $21.11/hour.