Small schools must remain open to meet local goals.
As St. Cloud School Board members complete cutting up to $6 million from next year's budget, they need to remember not everyone will be happy with their choices. Knowing that, they should adopt measures that build credibility by keeping long-range district goals as a guiding priority.
In simple terms, that means keeping Jefferson, McKinley and Roosevelt elementary schools open.
Why? Because it's the best way to achieve long-term facilities and educational goals. Here's why:
Up until this budget crisis, the district was on track to present residents with a long-range facilities proposal in the hope they would eventually approve a $60 million building referendum.
Granted, this plan has yet to receive substantial public input. But it has gotten plenty of district-level discussion and support. It calls for keeping all existing elementary schools open and making them for kindergarten through fifth grade. It also converts North and South junior highs and Discovery Community School into three middle schools. Technical and Apollo high schools would serve ninth-through 12th-graders.
Research has shown these grade configurations are most beneficial for kids. And they give the district more consistency from school to school.
To do all this does require redrawing school boundaries, but it doesn't require new buildings.
In other words, the district can tout the plan as helping all kids and making the most of existing space. Those are important points in a district where taxpayers may feel they aren't getting their money's worth.
Now compare that long-term facilities plan to the short-term debate on whether to close Jefferson, McKinley and Roosevelt.
Closing the three schools may minimize class size increases district wide next school year, but it casts a big cloud over the district's long-term facilities plan because no one can say with certainty those schools will ever reopen.
If they close for good, doesn't that jeopardize the long-term plan that had been gaining steam?
Even if the schools close temporarily, won't that mean redrawing school boundaries at least twice -- first to adjust for closure and again to adjust for their reopening, either as part of a new facilities plan or simply as revamped operations?
There is another factor in this debate. District administrators, at the request of board last month, have found more than $1.4 million in new ways to adjust the budget. Superintendent Jim Lee said those include:
-- Cutting $575,000 by adjusting the student/staff ratio district wide.
-- Cutting about $320,000 by eliminating three assistant principals, having four schools share two principals and cutting one administration job at the Area Learning Center.
-- Cutting about $124,000 more from the general fund supply budget.
-- Cutting about $100,000 more in special education services.
-- Saving about $100,000 more through various site-based reductions or revenue increases.
-- Cutting $70,000 more by restructuring district-level administration.
-- Cutting about $60,000 more by trimming the community relations budget and reducing building monitors.
-- And generating about $65,000 in revenue by raising student parking fees.
-- St. Cloud Daily Times
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