CROSBY -- About 300 people stood up Monday to fight for teachers and programs at Crosby-Ironton High School and offered to do whatever they could to save the school.
Some asked for the superintendent's resignation as well as resignations from the school board members.
"We put in 100 percent and see 100 percent back from teachers and the community," said Lindsey West, a student. "Education and learning should be the last thing that (the board) should cut. Income is low already. How are the teachers supposed to support a baby in diapers or put their child through college?"
Jennifer Johnson, another student, said the school board doesn't seem to look inside the classrooms. "Support the teachers and the students and vote no for the contract," she said. "We want our school back."
The school has been having financial difficulties for the past three to five years. The Crosby-Ironton Teacher's Union accepted a low settlement in the last contract to help the district get its finances back on track, according to representatives of the teacher's union. An arbitrator was brought in to help mediate a settlement between the school district and the teachers. The arbitrator accepted the school board's position regarding teachers' salaries and health benefits.
The Crosby-Ironton Board of Education ratified the negotiations of that agreement after listening to several parents, teachers and students. However, the board did agree to hold off on proposed cuts until its next meeting.
"The last couple of months have been hard," said board member Mike Kneeland. "We've been selected by the people to look at all the facts and we are trying to do the best we can.
"I can see all the hatred on the streets. People are taking it out on us personally," he said. "I have no solutions."
"I want to come up with solutions," responded resident Tori Peterson. "Everyone in here does. These are the people who voted for you and you are not listening."
Several residents, along with Peterson, asked board members and the superintendent to resign. Peterson also asked Makinen if he received any perks since the financial problems began and he said he had.
"Why?" she asked. Makinen did not answer.
Lori Howell, band director, felt betrayed by Makinen. If the proposed cuts are approved, Howell is out of a job.
"I thought of Bill as my grandfather," she said. "I never could understand why all the teachers got so mad at him. I feel lied to. I am going to have to pick up my life here and leave."
Chairman Scott Kile said the problem has been in existence for quite some time and there was no community support during the previous meetings. He also said that in the last two audits the district has been in the red and the school could lose its local control to the state if they don't do something.
"If the state comes in, they will scrap the budget to the bone and then we could lose more (than we are proposing)," he said.
Stan Nagorski, C-I science teacher for 30 years and lead negotiator for the teachers, challenged the board to create its own study within the district. He told them to request a state audit because it would be free.
Nagorski said the general fund has not been consistent in the past few years and he does not understand the cuts. In the general fund, most of the over-expenditures occurred in non-teaching areas -- transportation was over about $33,000, operating capitol $141,000 and the alternative education programs $91,500. These funds make up 13-14 percent of the general fund and accounted for 70 percent of the overexpenditures, he said.
"The teachers will never trust this school board again and the fallout from this episode is likely to create instability in the district for years to come," Nagorski said.
Staff backed up Nagorski's statement and signed a letter of petition.
John Hawkinson, who has two children in the school, said he had lost all confidence in the board and administration and said eventually there will be no C-I school and the students will go either to Brainerd or Aitkin.
"I graduated here in 1974 and now I say let's go someplace else as fast as we can," he said. "The buck stops here."
Resident Edward Dallas said the board, teachers, parents and community members need to work together.
"We need to get everyone's attention," he said. "Maybe we should do away with every sporting activity for two years, that will get people's attention."
Because students would be affected by any cuts, they expressed a desire to help get the school out of its financial distress. They said the teachers' cuts will not help and all it will do is make class sizes bigger and diminish what they have now in programs, such as band.
"We're on an education roller coaster," said a student. "We are being pushed from one side to another."
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