Resolution is approved every year, but usually doesn’t result in actual staff and program cuts

    The Crookston School Board and other districts across the state, as part of a statutory requirement, right around this time every year approve a resolution paving the way for potential reductions in staff and programs to be made in the spring. The resolution’s approval now is necessary to meet timeline requirements regarding the minimum amount of notice teachers must be given if they’re going to lose their jobs as the result of budget cuts.

    But what if the local board or any school board in Minnesota didn’t approve the resolution? That’s what Crookston board member Dave Davidson asked his colleagues and Superintendent Chris Bates on Monday.

    Davidson posed his inquiry for a couple of reasons. First, he said he found it “ironic” that the board was poised to pass the budget reduction resolution on the same day it was set to approve two new contracts, with Food Services Director Anna Ogaard-Brekken and School District Office Coordinator Marilyn Wahouske, both of whom, Davidson noted, will receive “reasonably nice” salary increases in their new contracts. While making it clear that he has no issue with the job performance of Ogaard-Brekken or Wahouske, Davidson said he thought that maybe the contracts could be addressed when the board has a better grasp of any budget reductions that might be necessary in the spring.

    To that, board member and Negotiations Committee Chair Tim Dufault said the board deals with 19 bargaining units each year, and new contracts are almost constantly being hammered out. It was simply a coincidence, he continued, that the resolutions to approve the contracts with Ogaard-Brekken and Wahouske were on the same agenda as the budget reduction resolution.

    “We can’t ask these groups to wait much longer; they’ve been working without a new contract (since last summer) and retroactive pay comes into play,” Dufault explained. “It would be great if everyone was knocking on the door to negotiate on July 1 (the first day of the district’s fiscal year), but it doesn’t happen.”

    Satisfied with that answer, Davidson noted that the resolution language allowing for potential budget cuts in the spring seems to assume that the board would approve it. What if it didn’t? he wondered.

    In that event, Bates theorized, even if the board had to make reductions in the spring and summer this year, it wouldn’t be able to because statutory guidelines regarding minimum notice would not have been met. In that event, he said, the board, if also met with static education funding from the state, would likely be faced with possibly three times the amount of reductions in the spring of 2018.

    The budget reduction resolution language indicates first and foremost that any potential reductions would be driven by declining enrollment. That’s a significant issue facing the board this school year, with a drop in enrollment from last fall to mid-January of 56 students amounting to lost state education revenue in excess of $400,000. While the district is tapping its budget reserves to avoid deficit spending until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, it’s more possible than usual that the budget reduction resolution approved Monday will come into play later in the spring.

    Because usually it doesn’t. Both Bates and board chair Frank Fee noted Monday that in their many years of experience as superintendent and board member, respectively, the vast majority of the time the budget reduction resolution doesn’t actually result in any staff or program cuts.

    But, Bates added, that doesn’t mean school principals and other administrators aren’t asked each year to look at opportunities to “increase efficiencies” in their buildings. The three school principals likely aren’t happy, Bates continued, that he asked them at their weekly meeting last week to find $60,000 in potential savings in their buildings for the 2017-18 budget. It doesn’t mean that each building’s budget is going to be reduced by $60,000, he stressed, it just means that the district’s administration has to constantly be closely examining the district’s bottom line.

    Fee said he never looks at the required, annual budget reductions resolution as a clear path toward significant staff and program cuts. But, he added, if, for example, a smaller kindergarten class comes in or enrollment is down at another school, it’s likely that teachers will have to be “moved” or “slid around” in order to maximum staff efficiency. That could also mean attrition and retired teachers not being replaced, Fee said.

    “But if Bubna (CHS Principal Eric Bubna) has a teacher twiddling his thumbs next year, what are we supposed to do? We should expect (Bubna) to come to us with that information,” Fee said to Davidson. “I’m not looking at directly cutting teachers, but the administration every year I think should be looking for…not to go and look for cuts, but to look at their efficiencies.”