Student reading (copy)

Students read and practice writing at M.W. Savage Elementary.

Proposals to raise class sizes by one student, reroute bus transportation and eliminate orchestra programs are on the table as Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District officials face another year of budget cuts.

Facing a projected $8.5 million deficit in the 2020-2021 budget, officials have been planning how to close the gap since last summer.

The new voter-approved levy increased revenue by approximately $1.6 million, district officials said this week, and the decision to close three schools this year will cut expenses by around another $2.6 million.

Staff reductions based on enrollment projections, referred to as “rightsizing,” are likely to reduce spending by around $1.3 million, and other miscellaneous adjustments and efficiencies built into the budget will save around $1.1 million.

The Board of Education is now tasked with closing the remaining $1.9 million deficit before the budget is adopted in June.

Superintendent Theresa Battle said a “strategic, values-oriented” approach will prioritize equity between schools, expanding the pathways curriculum and student support services in the budget.

“I will not sugar-coat the impact of staff reductions,” Battle said during a board workshop on March 13. “We will be losing beloved colleagues, our children will be losing beloved staff, and we will be losing the talent and expertise of newly hired staff.”

The board held another workshop discussion on the budget on Thursday, March 19.

Increasing class sizes by one or two students would result in 50 to 65 teacher layoffs and trim an estimated $900,000 to $1.6 million in expenses.

Stacey Sovine, the district’s human services director, said the layoffs would impact tenured teachers because recent years’ budget cuts have left the district without many teachers in the probationary period.

There are fewer than 10 probationary teachers at the elementary level, he said.

Board members gravitated toward increasing class sizes by one student but agreed they’d leave the option of a larger increase as an option for now.

Other proposed spending cuts are borrowed from last year’s budget proposal. Increasing activities fees, expanding the radius where students walk to school and eliminating middle school orchestra programs will be deliberated again after their rejection last year.

Lisa Rider, the district’s director of business, said it’s been at least five years since the district raised activities fees, and the cost to operate sports increases annually.

The proposal to increase activities fees by 25% could generate an additional $100,000 in revenue.

Last year, the spending cuts eliminated middle school sports. Some families looked to community education sports but couldn’t afford the $115 fee. Battle said they were used to paying $25 to play in the middle school programs.

Board Chairwoman Abigail Alt said the fee increases go against the values of keeping opportunities available to all students.

Rider said the increases might be reasonable given the costs associated with keeping pace with safety requirements. The football team, for example, needs new helmets every five years.

Changes to the district’s transportation plan could also lead to savings next year.

The state guidelines allow secondary students within a two-mile radius to walk to school, but the district’s plan only extends 1.5 miles.

Expanding the walk-to-school zone for secondary students to two miles would save an estimated $115,000.

The board will discuss the budget again at a workshop on April 6, which will likely be conducted over telecommunication.

There are no public meetings scheduled to provide feedback on the budget proposal, but the public is encouraged to provide comments on an online portal.

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