Prior Lake School Board work session — budget

Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board members gather virtually to review the district’s proposed budget cuts this year. District officials presented $3 million in cuts and savings in a revised proposal that kept on more teaching support staff than an earlier plan.

A second budget proposal by Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools that cuts more than $2 million in spending but keeps several more teaching support staff on through next year is set for a School Board vote on May 4.

The second version of the budget leaves out a previous plan to cut an elementary dean position and two technology integrationists. The district also proposed reducing the extended elementary dean contracts from 200 days to 185.

The new recommendations reduce the amount of proposed cuts by $400,000, creating a package of $2.4 million in cuts and $600,000 in new revenue.

Administration officials brought the revised proposal before the board Monday after members criticized the old cuts’ potential impact on students. But the recent proposal keeps the meat of the first draft.

It would cut 6 full-time-equivalent teaching positions from the elementary schools, 2.7 from the middle schools and 1.8 from the high school and allow several teaching support positions to remain vacant.

Officials have also asked the board to cut the number of special education staff, renegotiate the salary and benefits of administrative staff, freezing Superintendent Teri Staloch’s salary for a year, reduce the supply and tech budgets and increase energy efficiency across district buildings.

Human Resources Executive Director Jim Quiram emphasized the recommended changes to the number of teachers across the district are based on previously set student-teacher ratios. The same ratios would be used to hire teachers in a good financial year, he said.

“We as administration, and I would assume you as a board, feel that we sort of have this fiduciary responsibility that we are as efficient as we can be,” Quiram said. “Sometimes that means a reduction.”

Staloch told the board on April 13 she was considering extensive cuts in order to give the district a greater buffer for the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Business Services Executive Director Julie Cink gave the board a snapshot of that impact. The district has saved about $50,000 in reduced fuel and utility costs and another $200,000 from not needing to hire substitute teachers. Refunding the activity fee to families has put the district behind $125,000.

The board repeated that this is likely only the first in a series of cuts that will continue next year and potentially further to rebalance the district’s budget.

“The less cuts we have to make right now to make things work in this coming budget, the more comfortable I am with it, knowing that the cuts are going to get harder next time,” Chairwoman Lee Shimek said.

In anticipation of difficult conversations, Staloch said she plans to move up budget discussions in order to get more community input. The administration plans to review the budget starting in July and August before presenting the next set of recommendations in November.

Director Mary Frantz proposed the board take things a step further and show the community they feel the impact of the district’s finances by forgoing their $6,000 stipend.

“I do believe that if we’re going to impose pain on others, then we need to do something ourselves,” Frantz said.

Several members said they would celebrate any director who decided to give their stipend back but didn’t feel like it was appropriate to require it. Vice Chairwoman Stacey Ruelle and others said the move could dissuade community members from pursuing positions on the board.