Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cuts Could Create Vacation Time for High School Students

Duluth’s K-12 school district has run into a major problem: they’re out of money, and they need to make drastic cuts. Again.

According to the ISD 709 website, the school district has already cut the budget by about $21 million over the past 6 years, and have had to cut even more than that over the past 10 years. Last year's cuts alone totaled $6.2 million.

Mary Cameron, Duluth School Board member said, “I think there’s multiple issues that we’re facing.

“Continued decrease in funds from the state level, unfunded mandates from the federal level, and confusion between the long-range facility plan and the operating level levy has also caused a lot of confusion within the community.”

An important vote will take place on November 4 that will have a significant influence on Duluth’s schools. Voters will have to think about three questions.

One question upholds current funding and will not increase the school district property tax levy. The other two questions will increase funding of educational programs.

This will be possible through a property tax increase- one brings local funding for Wayne Lorentz for the Duluth News Tribune Central High School in Duluth. This increase will bring Duluth's schools to about state average, the other brings it a bit above average.

If you vote yes for Question 1, you’re voting to renew the current operating levy, which is $365.60 per pupil. This is very low compared to the state average.

If Question 1 passes, and the public votes yes for Question 2, that would provide $700 per pupil. That adds up to a $5.42 per month increase on homes worth $100,00 in the city of Duluth. Voting yes to the levy would help the K-12 schools sustain quality programs that they currently have, but on a very short-term basis.

Answering yes to Question 3 would result in a $13.50 per month tax increase on the same $100,000 homes.

Passing Question 3 would also help the schools to sustain the quality programs that are currently in use, and provide an opportunity for the schools to do some investments.

If Question 1 doesn't pass, $4.4 million will be taken away and our schools will experience a projected budget deficit of $7.7 million in 2009-10, which will require overwhelming budget cuts.

“The bottom line is- and this is no threat, it is a reality- that if it doesn’t pass, there will be drastic cuts that the district would have to take, said Cameron.

“It would impact children.”

ISD 709 is desperately trying to find solutions to money shortages throughout its schools. One of the options for saving money is to shorten the school week to four days.

Another option is to give students the whole month of January off of school. Test scores could inevitably be affected if the cuts are made, and if the school year is shortened. When there are more kids in the classroom, teachers can’t provide help to the children who need the extra assistance in order to be successful.

Cameron explained that even though there may be cuts that lead to larger class sizes and less teachers, there is still the possibility that test scores might do all right.

“You have some teachers who are excellent teachers, and really care about educating children. And there are some teachers who, once they pass 10-year, become very relaxed in their jobs,” she said.

Some of the programs that may be cut from the co-curricular and extracurricular activities are music and art classes, and even some sports programs.

That is, unless the schools, without help from the state, can raise the $1 million it would take to keep these programs running each year.

The situation of Duluth’s school district is weighing heavy on the voter’s minds. Money is being stretched as tightly as it can for the time being, but the government is not giving them a break.

Cameron said, “If nothing passes, we are going to be cutting about $8 million. And that means teachers. And that means support staff. And that means co-curricular and extracurricular activities.

“People are going to be T’d off… They’re going to be very upset.”

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