It’s entirely understandable that if you, your family or your child are directly and/or personally impacted by the almost $400,000 2019-20 budget reduction package approved by the Crookston School Board Monday evening, you’re upset.

    (Update: The board approved the package itself, but not the non-renewal of a special education teacher’s contract that was part of the package, so Superintendent Jeremy Olson and his administrative team are meeting Tuesday to figure out what to do next.)

    But the thinking here is that given how student enrollment continues to decline seemingly every year – it tends to dip during the actual school year after an enrollment projection arrived at over the summer has driven basically every budget decision – it seems borderline remarkable that only a little more than $400,000 has to be cut at this point.

    This is no longer a large school district. It’s bigger than most of the smaller districts that surround it, but it’s no longer appropriate or even fair to compare the Crookston district to the school districts in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls. That’s what a Crookston parent concerned about the reduction of a full-time choir instructor did the other day. East Grand Forks schools have six music instructors and, come this fall, Crookston will have only three, the parent said. That’s probably accurate. Also accurate are current enrollment figures and projected enrollment trends that show East Grand Forks’ enrollment flirting with 2,000 students, or almost twice the enrollment of Crookston.

    Superintendent Jeremy Olson is recommending a student enrollment projection for the first day of school in the fall of 2019 of 1,090 students, or ADMs (average daily membership). That’s about 84 kids per grade, K-12. There was a goal/hope a few years ago to have incoming kindergarten classes be at least 100 children in size, but that’s not the current reality in Crookston, or the reality into the foreseeable future.

    Wisely, Olson has said the reason he and his administrative team are recommending reductions for 2019-20 in the $400,000 range is because, while he doesn’t want to “over-cut” now, he doesn’t want to under-cut, either, and face a more daunting reduction challenge this time next year that could be hundreds of thousands more.

    There hasn’t been a big reduction in this district for a long time. No one has had to rally the troops to stave off a significant cut, like, say, of orchestra, for many years. But a pattern of deficit-spending had emerged, intermittently, in recent years due to enrollment declines occurring during the school year, and that’s not a wise long-term budget strategy.

    People should be thankful that the district has hung in there this well for this long. Crookston schools may not have six music teachers – or four English Language Learner instructors, like East Grand Forks has – but our local school district still offers curriculum, programming, activities and athletics that compare and in some cases still exceed programming offered in much larger school districts in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls. 

    If enrollment doesn’t increase or at least stabilize, more reductions are no doubt coming, and they’ll be more impactful than what’s concerning people this spring. One or maybe more than one significant program, activity or sport might be eliminated. Maybe Washington School will close and the public schools will be confined to two buildings.

    This district needs more kids, or at least needs to keep the kids it has. How do we make that happen? Well, right now, that’s the $400,000 question. If things don’t change, the financial stakes tied to the question will only increase.