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Fillmore Central holds special meeting

Thu, Dec 24th, 2009
Posted in Education

The Fillmore Central School Board held a special meeting on December 21 with the intent of getting input from the public on a few issues. On the agenda were major topics of discussion, including making large cuts in the budget and possibly restructuring the administration.

Board member John Torgrimson spoke about the Budget Committee meeting. He said they discussed the upcoming audit. He also mentioned the district has cut about a half a million dollars in the last two years, and they are looking at cutting another $200,000 this next year. Enrollment will be down by 22 students next year, which means a cut of at least $100,000 from the district's revenue.

The budget committee discussed a couple of possibilities that have been talked about in recent years. They discussed the feasibility of bringing the seventh and eighth graders to the high school, which could save money by eliminating the need for one or more teachers. They also discussed the fact that the Root River Program pays $24,000 a year to rent space at the Community Center, and they wondered if space could ever be found at one of the school buildings.

Torgrimson pointed out that these are just preliminary thoughts that are things to think about while trying to reach their goal of cutting $200,000.

Superintendent Myrna Luehmann said the Minnesota budget is worse than previously thought for the next year, and the governor has declared that public education is on the table to have funds reduced. "It's anybody's guess what will happen," said Luehmann. She said they could be resorting to another unallotment or tax shift. The recent tax shift resulted in the district receiving 27 percent less money this year. Luehmann said this is supposed to come back to schools, but most likely will not. She believes another 10 percent cut is a real possibility.

"I don't see any real positive things on the horizon," said Luehmann.

Torgrimson said the school borrowed $1.25 million to deal with the tax shifts the governor put in place a year ago, and many districts have had to borrow money they won't get back. "We'd like to be ahead of the game as much as possible."

The board discussed the possibility of bringing the seventh and eighth graders to the high school with Principal Heath Olstad. Olstad mentioned the opportunities that those grades would have with exploratory classes such as home economics, art and Spanish. He added that the current art teacher, who is part-time, could possibly be full-time. There would be a lot of things to look at, but Olstad guessed they would need three teachers from the middle school to come to the high school.

Micki Breitsprecher, the special ed. director, was asked about moving the Root River Program to a different building. She said the program must be separate from any other school. It could be located in the same building, but must have separate everything and have no integration with other students at all. Luehmann said it is generally recommended to have the Level 4 students off-site.

"The Root River Program is very self-sufficient," said Breitsprecher. "We are utilizing our resources well and our fund balances are doing well."

The Negotiations Committee met with Luehmann and Olstad and talked about possible administration changes. One option is to have a half-time superintendent and one principal for K-12, along with the Dean of Students, Chris Mensink. It was mentioned that the principals have to do three observations per year on all non-tenured teachers, and that would take up a lot of time. Olstad said it was doable. He also said that he and Luehmann and Mensink have been working together at Fillmore Central for many years and feel very comfortable with each other.

Olstad also complimented the student body and the staff at Fillmore Central, who are always willing to help out. He said a change like that would take an adjustment, and would require more responsibility on certain teachers, but it could be done.

Board member Deb Ristau asked what they would be missing out on by only having a half-time superintendent and one principal. She said losing direct supervision of teachers would be a big change.

Board member Jim Love said it was not going to get any easier, and it could be a lot harder a year from now.

There was some discussion about staff and communication. Band director Lane Powell said he is not concerned at all with having a problem, as he can always get a hold of Olstad. The concern for some people is that Olstad would be less available to the teachers.

Luehmann said there are some districts that have 500 or more students for one principal. The Dean would also count as a supervisor if the principal was not available.

"I'm still proud of the offerings we have for the students," said Olstad. "I think we're giving them a strong education."

Olstad said he has been the principal for six years and has a strong relationship with the teachers. "It's not a perfect situation," he said of the possible change, "but neither are the other cuts we've made the last two years."

Board member Sue Ostrom commented that even though they have made so many cuts, they still have a good student to teacher ratio. Torgrimson agreed that the district has managed to make their cuts the last two years and not affect the students' education.

There was a question about moving the seventh and eighth graders to the high school and the project going on at the middle school. Chair person Sue Sikkink said they would still use the building for fifth and sixth graders and find a way to utilize the other space. Board member Craig Britton said they would be in more trouble if they didn't do the HVAC project next spring, as they need to take care of the buildings.

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