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School Board discusses options for coping with cuts

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In an effort to put "all options on the table" in response to Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget cuts, the St. Croix Central School Board discussed the possibility of economic-based layoffs and other cuts within the district at the board special meeting March 7.

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Layoffs were just one of the many budget cutting options. As the district has no real reserve money, the only options to cut costs are in staff, building maintenance or facility improvements, extracurriculars or by cutting programs or looking at different health care plans.

The district has until April 1 to decide whether to issue economic-based layoff notices to some, all or none of its school staff.

Board member John Hueg said "before I would ever look at losing teacher number one and in essence staff number one, what's the cost of us running all the extracurriculars or us running buses to forensics, and basketball, and volleyball and softball and golf and all of that?" Including the cost of paying teachers working at ticket booths, paying coaches and gas costs for buses, he added.

While Hueg said he understood the educational benefits of sports and other extracurriculars, he asked "Why wouldn't we want to know what all those expenses are?"

While it would be ideal to have all the numbers on the table, Superintendent David Bradley said, "We don't have time between now and our next board meeting (on March 21) two weeks from now to look at everything ... We can look at a lot of things, but if you want to leave all the options on the table, then one of the options we need to consider two weeks from tonight is the notification of some teacher layoffs."

Bradley said the conversations involving costs and benefits of extracurriculars "are conversations that go on for months and fill auditoriums ... The bottom line is all going to get down to how much money are we going to take from our employees?"

The board didn't seem fond of the idea of laying off anyone within the district before knowing the numbers.

"We are going to have to go through a lot of emotional gyrations until (District Accountant) Jen (Kleschold) has run numbers and she has all these different modeling tools and say our best guess with the estimated enrollment and this happening and this retirement ... And then we'll know a number whether it's $100,000 or $300,000," Board member Jeff Redmon said.

He said after having those numbers the district would look at options about who or where to cut.

The sky isn't falling, Bradley said. "And it's certainly not falling for St. Croix Central," because the district has seen increasing enrollment and the board has been very prudent with financial decisions in the past.

Hueg asked about the economic impact on SCC teachers and worried that some teachers would go through "significant hardship" as a result of the budget cuts.

Hueg said he hopes the board can find a way to reduce the economic hardship for teachers, expecting nearly a 10 percent cut in their income due to the recent state proposals.

"If we can take it out of something where the hardship isn't about the person who is in front of our students, helping them achieve their life goals, I would hope that we as a district are looking at how can we soften that financial impact on, to me, the ones that matter most," Hueg said.

Board member David Olsen stressed it is important that the board keeps every option on the table, as it is the board's responsibility to make sure the district continues to operate.

Redmon said it's unknown what the result of the governor's budget will be.

The board needs to come up with the solution that "best educates students," Redmon said.

The board also discussed the importance of keeping teacher morale up while trying to not add to teachers' already high stress levels.

By the end of the meeting, the board had not decided how to cope with budget cuts; leaving all options on the table.

The board decided to add discussion related to changes in state's funding of public schools and changes to employee contracts and bargaining rights to the March 21 school board meeting agenda.

The March 21 regular board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

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Gretta Stark
Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.
(715) 426-1048
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