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Fillmore Central's big changes

Fri, Mar 5th, 2010
Posted in Education

Starting next school year, there will be numerous changes made at Fillmore Central Schools. There will no longer be a middle school in Preston, as the seventh and eighth graders are moving to the high school building.

During their meeting on February 23, the school board voted unanimously to make this major change. With this decision will come many more changes, all in the name of saving money. This year, the district must cut $200,000 from their budget, as they are looking at potentially having three to five percent of their state funds held back by the state.

High School Principal Heath Olstad said the board and administration have been talking about the possibility for a couple of years now. They have faced major budget cuts over the last three years for a number of reasons. Declining enrollment has been a big problem for the smaller schools in Fillmore County, and Fillmore Central has been no exception. Public schools have also been receiving less money from the state each year and have been forced to make large cuts in their already tight budgets.

"Any public school is at the mercy of the state," said Olstad. He added that it will be difficult to say how the schedules will look next year until the state legislature decides their budget. Olstad is hoping they won't have to make any deeper cuts.

Superintendent Myrna Luehmann said the state legislature will finish up their session near the end of May. She is hopeful that at that time they will know more about what to expect.

"Who knows?" said Luehmann. "They may just leave it, and then we'll be dealing with more tax shifts and unallotments. I wish I had a good feel about what they are going to do, but I don't."

The state is looking at a hefty deficit, and Luehmann is not sure that the next few years look any better. "In the long term, I think we may be dealing with this a good five years, maybe eight to ten."

Luehmann told the board a couple of months ago that moving the seventh and eighth graders would save the district $150,000. There have been questions from the public as to where those savings will come from.

Luehmann explained that one teacher who has retired would not have to be replaced. There are a few teachers right now who travel between the Preston and Harmony sites to teach both middle school and high school students, and this move would cut back on their driving time and costs.

"We will be making better use of the teachers' licensures," said Luehmann. "There will be some shuffling."

Some of the teachers who are licensed at the middle school are also licensed to teach elementary school, and can be moved around. Most teachers at the high school are licensed to teach grades 7-12.

Right now, it appears there may be four teachers moving to the high school along with the students. According to Luehmann, the numbers won't be known for sure until after registration. They will then have a better idea of how many sections they need for each class. Luehmann said as of right now, no teachers are being cut because of the move.

There will be, however, many teachers affected by the move. Some teachers who are now part time may increase their time to fill in other places. This will save the district money by using the resources and teachers they having instead of hiring more.

As for the scheduling, Luehmann and Olstad both agree that everything is still up in the air. Luehmann said they are still looking at the possibility of having smaller class sizes, or "skinnies" for the seventh and eighth graders. Right now there are four block periods of about 77 minutes each at the high school. There have been questions raised about the difficulty of sitting through a longer class. According to Luehmann, there may be some changes done to the schedule to accommodate splitting the blocks in half.

"We have to think about what will be best for the kids," said Luehmann. "We have good support in the middle school, and we want to make sure we keep that for them in the high school."

Luehmann doesn't believe it will be a big move for the kids, as they will have most of the same teachers they did at the middle school. Olstad has compared it to when the schools first combined in 1993 to form Fillmore Central, and they had portable classrooms and teachers moving around.

"We have to be efficient, and use the classrooms to the best of our ability," said Olstad.

Olstad feels optimistic about the change. He said the middle school used to offer several exploratory classes that, due to budget cuts, are no longer being offered. "I feel we can offer a new set of exploratories for these kids," said Olstad. "I think it will be beneficial. A very positive thing."

Both Olstad and Luehmann appreciate the fact that the board made the decision early enough to give them time to work out all of the details. As they move toward September, there are many things to think about, and many more decisions to be made.

"It was a tough decision the board made, but I think it was timely," stated Olstad.

Along with the move, there were some changes made to the administration. Starting July 1, Luehmann will no longer be the K-8 principal. She will be a part-time superintendent, and Olstad will become the K-12 principal. Chris Mensink will still be the Dean of Students at the elementary school. These changes will be saving the school $25,000.

Luehmann said the three of them work together very well, and have excellent communication. "I'm not concerned," she said of the change. "I think it will fall into place."

Many things about the budget cuts and moving the seventh and eighth graders are still up in the air. There are still questions about how it will work, how the classrooms will be utilized, which teachers will be moving around, and what kind of schedule the students are looking at. Over the summer the administration and the board will be looking at all of these details and trying to do the best they can with what money they have to work with.

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