Many Brainerd lakes area school districts are facing declining enrollments and have been forced to cut their budgets, resulting in many people losing their jobs.
The Little Falls School District was one of the hardest hit and is working to get itself out of statutory operating debt. The district cut $1.8 million for next school year, which will result in 27 people losing their jobs.
The district has cut $4.68 million since 2000, which has meant 11.5 administrative positions, 44 teachers and 45 other positions have been eliminated.
The district's enrollment has gone down consistently since 1999. In the 1999-2000 school year, enrollment dropped by 60 students from the previous year. In 2000-01, enrollment was 3,378 students or 199 fewer students from the previous year. Last school year, enrollment dropped by another 156 students and this school year it dropped by another 246 students. Projected for next year is another drop of 205 students.
The district expected a decrease in enrollment this school year, but not as severe as it was. As a result, the district conducted a telephone survey to find out why the students left.
Of the 77 students who responded to the survey, 34 left for economic reasons. Other students left to attend the Continuing Education Center; to attend a private school for religious reasons; to go to another school district; to be home schooled; or they dropped out of school. About four students left for other reasons.
The Crosby-Ironton School District also has made several reductions to its budget in the past few years, including cutting 25 people whose contracts were not renewed or who were put on unrequested leave of absence. Cutting these positions will save the district about $954,000.
The district had to make cuts since it was declared in statutory operating debt when its general fund balance at the end of June 30, 2001, was $567,713 in the red.
The district's enrollment has been on a decline since 1996-97. That school year there were 1,590 students and the district has lost 133 students since. The projected enrollment for next school year is 1,452.
Crosby-Ironton Business Manager Bill Tollefson said the district has lost about 100 students to home schooling. It lost between 157 to 206 students each year to other districts through open enrollment.
The Staples-Motley School District needs to cut about $725,000 from its 2003-04 budget. Proposed cuts include eliminating 4.52 full-time equivalent teaching positions, one FTE nursing assistant, one FTE paraprofessional, a district office position and a part-time custodian.
Staples Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said the district was looking to reduce the number of school days to four as an option to save $258,000. However, last week the school board agreed it did not have enough information to go to a four-day week for next school year.
This school year there are 1,500 students in the district, 100 fewer students than last year. Scarbrough projects the district will lose another 40-50 students next year. He said enrollment has gone down steadily since 1994.
Scarbrough said the biggest reason why enrollment has declined is the decrease in school-aged children. Open enrollment and students going to Sacred Heart Catholic School play a small role, he said.
The Aitkin School District also has seen fewer school-aged children. Aitkin Superintendent Ed Anderson said enrollment has been on the decline since the 2001-02 school year. That year there were 1,341 students. Last school year the number of students dropped by 37 and projected for next school year is a decrease of 29 students.
"We're expecting a decline in the next four to five years," Anderson said.
Anderson said the district may have to cut about $465,000 next school year because of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal for education. Of the $465,000, $200,000 will be taken out of the school's general fund balance. The remaining $265,000 will be saved by not filling four vacant positions, due to retirements and resignations
"We will not lay anyone off," Anderson said.
Wadena School District Business Manager Jerry Anderson said his school district is looking at cutting between $200,000 to $300,000 from its 2003-04 budget. The cuts may affect 3.5 FTE teaching positions and one other district employee.
Anderson said enrollment has been on a decline since the 1997-98 school year when there were 1,479 students. This year there are 1,321 students and projected for next school year are 1,291 students.
Anderson said the reason for the decline is there are smaller families in the area and the population in Wadena has remained stable. Open enrollment affected the school district's enrollment slightly.
The Pine River-Backus School District has seen a drop in enrollment for the past two school years. Superintendent James Madsen said he projects the school will lose an additional 45 students next school year. The high school currently consists of four sections and Madsen said it most likely will level off to three sections because of enrollment.
Madsen said the reason for the decline is low birth rates. He said open enrollment and students who leave to be home-schooled has stayed steady for the past few years.
Madsen said the district may cut $300,000 from its budget for next school year because of state cuts, which may result in cutting five to six positions.
Going farther north of Pine River, the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District also is seeing declining enrollments. Superintendent Jeff Lindstrom said there has been a gradual decline since 1997 and district-wide he expects 20 fewer students each year for six years.
Lindstrom said open enrollment and affordable housing are the two main reasons for the decline. He said when people move to the area the cost of housing around the lakes is so high they are forced to buy a home farther from Walker. He said then the students end up going to a school closer to their home, such as the Nevis School District. He also said demographics have shown many people in the school district are either ready to retire or have retired and have no school-aged children.
Lindstrom said the district may cut between $300,000 to $600,000, depending on the state, in the 2003-04 school year that may result in cutting five to 10 people.
The Brainerd, Pillager, Pequot Lakes and Pierz school districts are not faced with declining enrollments, but may still have to make budget cuts for next school year, depending on the Legislature's action.
The Brainerd School District may cut $750,000 for the 2003-04 school year. These cuts would not result in any employees losing their jobs. The district plans not to fill a secretary, custodian and three full-time equivalent teaching positions.
The Pillager School District will need to cut $200,000 from its budget next school year. It also may be faced with another $400,000 depending on state revenues. The district has been preparing proposed cuts at the elementary and high school level, but none has been approved at this time.
Pillager Superintendent Phil Johnson said he could not predict how many positions would be reduced.
"The district is not yet at that point," he said.
The Pillager School Board passed a resolution to eliminate the positions with the Teamsters Local No. 320 with the intent to advertise for quotes for the services. There are about 33 people in the union who would be affected by this.
The Pequot Lakes School District continues to see a 1-2 percent increase in enrollment. Superintendent Jim Oraskovich said due to the state and with "the cost of doing business going up" the district is looking at cutting between $200,000 to $300,000 from its 2003-04 budget.
Oraskovich said the district already has placed one assistant principal on unrequested leave of absence. He said three certified staff and three non-certified staff may also be cut next fall. The school board will vote on the positions at its April meeting.
Pierz Superintendent George Weber said the school district plans to trim about $100,000 from its budget across the board. Weber said there will be no staff cuts.
Verndale Superintendent David Holquist said the school district will not have to make any cuts next school year. He said enrollment has been steady at the school. This school year there are 456 student in kindergarten through 12th grade.
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