The information was nothing new, even before the failure of the Nov. 6 operating levy referendum, except that the figures represent a new reality for the Brainerd School District.
Brainerd School Board Finance Committee members voted to recommend for board action the administrative recommendations for $5.5 million in budget reductions by June 30 and effective for the 2008-09 school year. Those recommendations include the following reductions:
- Transportation, $180,000.
- School closures, $500,000.
- Athletics and activities: $860,000.
- Use of school facilities: $300,000.
- Class size and programs: $3.66 million.
While some budget reductions are now known - the proposed closure of Whittier and Lincoln elementary schools and relocating the Minnesota Learning Center to Lincoln, for example - other categories will remain general until later in the budget reduction process as details are worked out.
Kathleen Hermerding, a north Brainerd resident, said she felt she needed to attend the Brainerd School Board Finance Committee meeting to hear the rationale on why the district is closing Whittier Elementary School, where all six of her children have attended or are now enrolled.
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The Finance Committee approved the general guidelines that school administrators carried forward in terms of athletics and activities. Administrators plan to cut 18 of the 29 high school league sports along with all sports and activities at the middle-school level and all clubs and organizations with advisers.
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth declined to discuss specifics yet on which athletic programs would be recommended for elimination because they weren't prepared to present that information at this time but would address it at a later date. The district needs to provide gender equity and seasonal balance for all sports and needs to follow requirements under Title IX. He would say that one of the sports not being considered for elimination was adapted floor hockey, which is the only sport available for students with disabilities. Walseth said there is an opportunity for the community to come together to help fund those 18 sports and activities.
Board member Ruth Gmeinder asked of many of the athletic programs and activities could be fee-based and operated through Brainerd Community Education.
"One thing we're not prepared to do is to say Community Education will pick up the slack," said Walseth. "That's not the responsibility of Community Education. If the community does that through that venue, we would encourage that."
Walseth said administrators have had a few meetings so far with elementary principals about changes and reductions that will be made in K-4 programming and those recommendations would be made first to the school board curriculum committee by the end of December. The recommendations for reductions in middle level and high school programming would then follow.
"We're moving to try to make sure anything we do at the K-6 realm meshes with what we will be proposing for 7-12," said Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Steve Razidlo.
Administrators at a later date also will discuss recommendations for reductions for use of school facilities and for creating larger class sizes as the school boundaries are redrawn.
Walseth thanked the many community members who attended Thursday's Finance Committee meeting. Visitors included Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd; Pequot Lakes Superintendent Rick Linnell; and Nisswa Mayor Brian Lehman. Walseth said the well-attended meeting was a testament to the many dedicated people who care about the future of the community.
While only board members Ruth Gmeinder, Bob Nystrom and Reed Campbell are voting members of the finance committee, all school board members attended the meeting. Both board members Ruth Nelson and Lew Hudson said they were in full support of the actions made Thursday by the committee. Board chair Kent Montgomery did not comment about the cuts.
Nystrom thanked administrators for their hard work, including giving more than 100 operating levy referendum presentations throughout the community before the levy vote.
"We'll get through this," said Nystrom. "We are one community and we may agree to disagree but we are one community and we're going to move forward with everyone's help."
Audience members applauded at the conclusion of the meeting.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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