About 100 community members from the Crosby-Ironton School District joined school board members Monday to offer their help in solving the district's financial crisis after the defeat of the school operating levy referendum vote Nov. 6.
The community brain-storming session was a very positive experience, several board members and meeting attendees said by phone after the meeting. Community members met in small groups Monday and came up with cost-saving ideas and also asked questions of board members. A similar meeting was held last week for about 60 school staffers.
"I thought it was real positive, I really did," said board member Barb Neprud. "I think it really showed our community is really willing to work together right now and make some positive changes. I think people understand the dilemma that we're in and they know we're going to have to step outside the box a little to ensure we have a quality school system."
The school board is faced with cutting $1 million from its $12 million budget by July 1. C-I Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland has said he will recommend that the board make its decisions about budget reductions no later than the Dec. 17 board meeting. A board workshop is planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday for board members to discuss possible reductions.
"It's nice to know the community is engaged in this," said board member Maurice Slepica. "The discussions brought up some valid concerns and some of the suggestions, I thought, were very creative. We're going to digest what we have and look at a timeline and slot more meetings into that. Community members were discussing having their own meetings."
Slepica said it was encouraging to see so many residents involved in the process.
"I think we (as a school board) need to be transparent in what we do and they need to feel ownership and a partnership with us," said Slepica.
"It went really, really well," said board chair Mike Domin. "We had a nice crowd. People had good remarks and nobody got excited. Everyone felt it was a good first step."
"It was wonderful to see all the community members there and all the positive comments," said Kathy Hachey, a retired C-I teacher and community member. "There was a feeling of almost excitement in the air, that we can do this, we can work on this together. We need to get information out to let everyone understand and feel a part of it instead of just the administration making the decisions. The hospital wants to be really involved. People are really excited about it, I think. We need to work together as a community and everyone needs to be involved."
Dr. Howard McCollister, chief of surgery at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, said the brainstorming session was a positive first step. He said in order for the hospital to retain physicians and to hire new ones it is vital that C-I has a healthy school district. The Crosby hospital is the third largest employer in Crow Wing County, he said.
"The success of the school district is completely tied to the success of the community," said McCollister. "Once these cuts are made and implemented then we've got to focus on the community to rally behind the school district. We have to put all the hard feelings from the strike behind us, along with suspicion and mistrust. We have to use this to bring the community together."
Kelly McCalla, who has a 3-year-old and a kindergartner at Cuyuna Range Elementary School, said he thought it was encouraging that the school board was reaching out to the community and asking for its involvement.
McCalla said one idea from the session that intrigued him wasn't a money-saving idea but it was discussed that the district could maybe open up a couple of gyms during the week and let homeschoolers and their families in.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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