The first of three major budget cuts was unanimously approved by the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) board Thursday, eliminating more than $500,000 from the district budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
A concern for increased activities fees prompted the district’s athletic department to look for revenue, or cost cutting, elsewhere. As part of a last-minute change, the department eliminated a $7,000 revenue enhancement from increased activities fees in exchange for a $7,500 budget reduction consisting of plans to cut four assistant coach positions at the high school and middle school.
WAPS activities director Brad Berzinski said the middle school assistant football and girl's soccer coaches, dance assistant coach, and the junior class advisor positions would be cut.
“Based on the comments from previous meetings, the board members felt the $10 increase to student activity fees would not be the best option,” Berzinski said. “As an athletic department, we had to look for a matching cut and it resulted in cutting these four positions.”
Berzinski added that anytime a cut is made, there is a loss to a program. However, he said that he is confident that head coaches and other faculty in place will be able to cover the responsibilities of the lost positions.
An expected cut to the in-school suspension (ISS) program at the middle school, which is estimated to save $21,153, concerned board member Ben Baratto, who said he wanted to make sure that if the program were cut that there be an appropriate place to send a disruptive student.
“I just want to make sure if a student is disrupting a class, he or she has a place to go to be dealt with so the other students don’t lose an hour of class time,” he said.
Winona Middle School principal Mark Anderson said a recent poll of teachers at the school revealed that the majority of teachers wanted to see the ISS program eliminated.
“There might be 10 or 15 students in the principal’s conferences room around lunch time, but that’s because we do lunch detentions. If you look any other time of the day, we don’t have kids in there,” Anderson explained. “We just don’t have a lot of kids in ISS.”
Anderson added that if a student is taken out of a classroom, the student will be dealt with appropriately and only allowed to return to class if he or she will not disrupt other students' learning experience.
“Those teachers will continue to get the support from administration when that occurs,” Anderson said.
At the top of the list of budget reductions is an estimated $111,000 savings by increasing classroom size targets by two students, a $50,000 reduction in the amount allocated to textbooks, and a $40,000 collective reduction from clerical departments at both the middle school and high school.
Another cut that is estimated to save the district $28,840, is a reduction in instructional supplies for all departments. Superintendent Scott Hannon said while the cut is across the board, it will not leave a teacher without the necessary supplies.
A total of $503,129 is the first of three major budget reductions. Current budget projections show that the district must also cut $750,000 for 2014-2015, and $450,000 for 2015-2016.
“We appreciate the rich discussion we have had here in the previous meetings and we have worked very hard to tweak this process, but I think it’s worked out well,” Hannon said. “Hopefully we don’t get into nickel and diming things, because we’d hate to do that. We have miles to go before we sleep.”
Full list of budget reductions
• Restructure elementary emotional behavioral disorder programs and day treatment services- $38,000
• .6 reduction of Middle School electives (Family and Consumer Sciences)*- $33,000
• Charge back human resources and information services to school nutrition and community services- $25,000
• Four-day work week for eight weeks in the summer- $26,312
• Restructure Middle School in-school suspension- $21,153
• Reduction of .2 administrator*- $20,000
• Restructure high school and middle school safety specialist schedules- $16,000
• Reduce school nutrition, maintenance position by .3 full-time equivalent*- $15,000
• Reduce special education lead teacher position at the middle school by .4 full-time equivalent*- $15,000
• Move Greenhouse Program to a different location- $10,000
• Reduce elementary consumable instructional supplies- $10,000
• Replace Lotus Notes and MS Office with Google (G-Mail and apps)- $10,000
• Change property insurance parameters- $10,000
• Close middle school pool early- $7,000
• Reduce copy usage- $6,000
*A full-time employee has a status of 1.0, while lower decimals represent a fraction of full-time status
Adding instructional time
WSHS students need not set their alarm clocks earlier quite yet, as the WAPS board is undecided whether or not it will to vote to add instructional time to the secondary school day.
The board re-examined four options Thursday that could add as much at 30 minutes of time to the day for secondary students, but would require students to start class much earlier than the current 9 a.m. start.
“I was initially in favor of adding 30 minutes to the school day but if we make a quick decision on something without a lot of thought, it doesn’t turn out so well,” Baratto said.
Board chair Mohamed Elhindi agreed, saying if the district was going to add time to the secondary school day, he wanted it to be “quality time.”
Newly-elected board member Brian Zeller questioned whether passing time could be cut down. However, WSHS principal Kelly Halvorsen said the time in between classes had already been cut down from 10 minutes to seven.
“I think that we are all in agreement that we would like to get more instructional time,” board member Steve Schild said. “I don’t know what that magic number for passing time is but I would hate to see it cut. Kids, like the rest of us, have a lot going on in the day. It’s a time to catch a breath, get an emotional break.”
Halvorsen said with the passing time already reduced, the biggest problem with not enough passing time is the rising number of tardy students. She also added that the administration is currently looking at changing the school schedule to possibly a six- or seven-period day. But, with the options still in discussion phase, Baratto said he would rather see a change in the schedule first before implementing more instructional time.
“I think Kelly hit the nail on the head,” Baratto said. “She is working on a new schedule for the high school and I think we can survive another year without [additional instructional time]. I think changing the high school schedule is the major objective right now and we can tweak the instructional time after [the new schedule] falls into place.”