School Board members and administrators discussed the upcoming budget for the first time Monday. They’ll need to trim $3.5 million to bring it into balance, but Superintendent Bill Gronseth said he’s heard clearly in community meetings that “we can’t touch class size.”
“It can’t be the answer this time,” he said. “I don’t know what it would look like.”
Several board members said they wouldn’t support it even if it appeared on the list.
“We have to make very difficult decisions,” Chairman Tom Kasper said, noting he’s heard concerns from many parents. “I won’t be supporting anything in that area.”
Some teachers and principals reported class sizes this school year in the upper 40s in middle and high school classes and mid-30s in elementary school classes. Class sizes were the largest they had ever been in Duluth, longtime teachers said.
Employee health-care options that were discussed and rejected last year are on the list again. Each requires contractual agreements, and the current contract for the Duluth Federation of Teachers expires June 30. Negotiations have just begun, said Bill Hanson, director of business services.
District officials estimate it would save $1.23 million per year if employees paid 20 percent of their single coverage toward health insurance and another $1.5 million if full health-care benefits were offered only to full- and 0.8-time employees rather than 0.5-time as currently required. Another $723,000 could be realized through freezing salaries.
Cuts to elementary specialists, another large item for a savings of $1.6 million, also reappeared on the list. The positions — which include those for library, media, art, music and physical education teachers — were saved last year by eliminating a middle school period instead.
Other considerations include:
Eliminate all-day kindergarten.
Revise the academic intervention plan.
Reduce zero-hour staffing.
Restructure middle and high school days.
Reduce school administrators.
Review elective classes with fewer than 25 students.
Reduce middle school athletics and activities.
Board members expressed frustration at the reappearance of many options.
“We would make a huge mistake by getting rid of elementary specialists,” Judy Seliga Punyko said. “That’s the one thing that every other district has around us.”
Hanson said other items will be added to the list as groups meet.
“Some are fairly general and may not lead anywhere,” he said. “They are on here to make sure … we look at them.”
The board will vote on a list of reductions March 5 so the administration can make decisions, but the final budget isn’t approved until June.