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A lesson in levy failure: Potential school cuts outlined

Jackie Paradis, Red Wing Public Schools business manager, explains issues that could stem from not passing an operating levy in November. Paradis, along with Red Wing School District Superintendent Karsten Anderson (also pictured), presented a potential list of cuts at the April 16, 2018, Red Wing School Board meeting. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia

"It was especially painful to go through this list."

The list that Red Wing School District Superintendent Karsten Anderson is referring to is the potential cuts that would result if the operating levy doesn't pass in November.

Anderson presented his recommended cuts to the School Board, and the public, for the first time at the April 16, 2018, board meeting, taking no pleasure in proposing ways to cut more than $3 million from the district's 2019-2020 budget.

After voters failed to pass a two-part referendum on Nov. 7, 2017, the district received comments saying people weren't sure what they were voting for. And they wanted the School Board to explain the potential cuts that could ensue or where the additional approved monies would go.

Anderson showed cuts of five elementary school teaching positions, three middle school teaching positions, and five high school teaching positions. These would result in the savings of more than $1 million.

Along with those teaching positions would be media center staffing cuts at the elementary and secondary schools, plus administrative, custodial, secretarial positions also.

The list also presented the option of closing Colvill Family Center and Tower View Alternative Learning Center, saving $104,200 and $250,000, respectively.

Anderson said the $3,094,700 the district would need to save that first academic year once the existing operating levy expires doesn't factor in any enrollment decline that might follow a failed referendum.

Partial passage, complete failure

Prior to Anderson's presentation, Jackie Paradis from School Management Services used two charts to explain the effects of two outcomes — if it passes with reductions or if it doesn't pass at all — to the bottom line.

Paradis said the district plans to lose between five to 20 students per year moving forward.

Vice Chairperson Heidi Jones said after the meeting that, in her 10 years, the district has seen a decrease in around 200 students, down to about 2,600. Jones said this is a trend across the state.

"I think the declining enrollment caught us by surprise a few years ago," Jones said. "Now, we understand it's a part of our reality."

Paradis said even if a bare minimum referendum, the district would need to make cuts in the future.

"So even with an increase of $1,000 (per student), we're going to be in trouble financially?" Board members Pam Roe asked Paradis.

Paradis said that would be the case in a few years.

The current levy is for $811.64 per student.

Through the charts, Paradis located the statutory operating debt reserve line, a requirement that school districts in Minnesota need to operate above, saying that if the only passing option is a $300 per student increase, the district would fall beneath the SOD for the 2019-2020 school year.

If the district falls beneath the SOD, the state would make decisions for the board, a point addressed by Jones and Paradis.

However, if the board were to approve an increase of $1,500, the district would stay above the SOD line for a long period of time, but also meet its goal reserve number.

At this time, the specific questions for the upcoming referendum vote in November have not been discussed, nor do they have an idea of what they would look like, according to multiple members on the board.

The district's current levy will expire in 2019. The district has not had an increase in operating levy for a decade.

Though the list of cuts presented is difficult to be discussed, Jones hopes the presentation gave the large crowd at the meeting an opportunity to see what they're voting for.

"Because, it's providing the community with exactly, not fully detailed, but with scope, that sports teams will be affected, activities, teachers, class sizes, administrative levels, and that type of thing," Jones said. "I'm hoping that's exactly what the community was looking for. ... It's not good news, obviously. But I think it'll help the public understand kind of where we're at."

Board Director Bethany Borgschatz said after the meeting said all of the cuts are "equally devastating," but added cutting staff would be incredibly tough to do.

Borgschatz said the board will look to communicate with public further to make sure all are aware of the upcoming referendum vote.

Anderson said there is no implementation plan set for reductions. Anderson also added the list is not finalized and can be changed.

The board will meet on May 29 to discuss the potential questions for the referendum.

To view a list of the potential cuts, visit the district website under the April 16 board meeting tab.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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