A lot has changed since Ranae Case Evenson taught at Jordan elementary and middle schools two decades ago, but a sense of strong community in the school district, she said, remains the same.
“It’s exactly where I want to be, I have a great deal of respect for the community,” Case Evenson said.
Case Evenson came on board as the district’s interim superintendent July 1, stepping into the role previously held by Matt Helgerson, as the school board searches for a permanent replacement.
But timing of Case Evenson’s arrival is hard to envy, with the district recently forced to cut $746,703 in order to balance its budget, not to mention the ongoing challenge of providing quality education in the middle of a pandemic.
Budget cutsThe district’s financial straights are the result of a failed operating levy referendum last fall. Voters shot down a proposal to raise the district’s operational levy by $300 per student, providing an additional $600,000 in revenue each year. Voters rejected that measure 55% to 45%.
The 2020-21 budget cuts were made earlier this year in order to make room for a projected $675,000 shortfall. Some of the largest budget reductions come from staff cuts. The approved budget terminates contracts with a middle school language arts teacher and a high school science teacher, and does not renew a contract with a middle school math teacher. Together, those reductions save the district about $165,000.
Another significant cost reduction is cutting four paraprofessional positions and electing not to hire subs for paraprofessionals. Those reductions save the district an estimated $106,000.
The school board also decided not to renew the school resource officer contract — a decision that leaves the schools without a police officer, but saves the district $60,000. Additional savings were made by cutting supply budgets, freezing athletic uniform purchases and reducing vocational tech busing to Chaska.
Mounting uncertaintyAnother consequence of the failed referendum is an increase in class sizes, which now adds another hurdle to providing a safe learning environment in the event that students return for in-person education this fall.
Shortly before Case Evenson started work in Jordan, state officials told districts to prepare plans for three possible scenarios this fall: in-person instruction, distance learning and a hybrid model.
But Case Evenson was able to get a head-start by meeting and communicating with Jordan staff ahead of her arrival. She said staff engagement and support has helped her get a handle on the challenges the district currently faces.
“Superintendent Helgerson built a very strong team with very strong community support of teachers and parents and custodians — every group has been very supportive,” Case Evenson said. “... I noticed immediately there is a great sense of teamwork from all of our working groups and that’s just a wonderful thing.”
Case Evenson spent the last five years working as director of elementary curriculum at Anoka-Hennepin School District. Before that she was a teacher and principal at several districts around the state. This will be Case Evenson’s first stint as a superintendent, and though she’s currently employed on a short-term contract, she said she’s treating the job like any other.
“The school community needs strong leadership and they need somebody that will continue the great work that Superintendent Helgerson has done over the years,” Case Evenson said. “Whether my title is interim or just the superintendent, I approach the work the same. My goal is to engage the community and staff and provide support as the need it right now — it’s truly a unique time in public education.”
The school board is still set to begin its months-long search for a permanent replacement later this year, though Case Evenson indicated she’d be interested in sticking around long term.
“Who wouldn’t want to? ... For me it’s the best possible job in the best possible place.”