Budget cuts hit district

Sam Begin, Layout Editor-in-Chief

Budget cuts have rolled around again to the district as continued deficit spending mandates continued cuts to program funding. The goal of these cuts is to create a balanced budget for the 2015-2016 school year, but some people wonder what these cuts will do to the quality of education the district maintains.

While not as extreme as last year’s total of around $4.2 million in cuts, according to the Stillwater Gazette, these cuts still come out to around $2.5 million out of the budget, which the school board approved in March.

The most controversial of these cuts is health services in which three nurses in the district are planned to be replaced with three paraprofessionals. This would save around $130,000, but potentially decrease the level of health services that students have now. However, as Superintendent Tom Nelson said, “We are replacing several nursing positions with trained paras much like we do currently at five of our elementary buildings. These positions will still be supervised by a licensed school nurse.”  This brings hope that any change to the current system will be minimal.

We are replacing several nursing positions with trained paras much like we do currently at five of our elementary buildings. These positions will still be supervised by a licensed school nurse.”

— Tom Nelson

Health services are not the only thing enduring cuts, however. Programs also experiencing cuts include transportation, special education, the ALC as well as athletics and activities. These cuts were expected as the district continues to spend more than it makes in revenue, but their impact will be largely muted within the school districts.

“The goal was to keep the impact of these cuts away from the classroom.  With the board approved cuts, over 60 percent of the reductions the students will not notice,” said Kristen Hoheisel, the district’s Director of Finance. 

As a high-level advisor to the school board, Hoheisel is intimately familiar with budget cuts.

“I work with other administration to develop a list of potential cuts.  I then work with the school board to lay out all of the financial information.  The school board is the decision maker in the cuts”, said Hoheisel.

The school board made these cuts the June after pulling together a finance committee last fall to evaluate the district’s budget with that of other districts. The results of the evaluation surprise some of the committee members.

“In some areas, we were surprised that our costs were considerably higher than other east metro districts,” said Nelson. “We examined why and are changing some of our delivery practices.”

These cuts are also necessary due to factors outside of the school board’s control; namely, legislative funding.

In reality, we are not going to get much in terms of new money from the legislature.  The district will have to continue to watch the budget very closely and make adjustments every year,” said Nelson.

As jarring as some of these cuts may be, they were unavoidable. The district cannot continue to deficit spend, therefore these cuts are designed to return the district to normal spending.

“We have been spending more than we have been receiving for a handful of years,” said Hoheisel.  “Consider yourself, can you spend more than you make?  If so, how long can that continue?  It is always easier for the long term if you are spending exactly what you are making.”

The district may hurt from these cuts now, but in the long term, it is hoped that the district can continue to provide an excellent education for it’s students.