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Our view: Keep all on table to balance Duluth school district budget | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Published February 13, 2013, 12:00 AM

Our view: Keep all on table to balance Duluth school district budget

Students typically end up at Unity High School after not doing so well at Duluth’s much larger and more crowded traditional public high schools. So moving Unity out of Historic Old Central High School and into Denfeld or East really doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when a goal should be helping students — all students — succeed.

Students typically end up at Unity High School after not doing so well at Duluth’s much larger and more crowded traditional public high schools. So moving Unity out of Historic Old Central High School and into Denfeld or East really doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when a goal should be helping students — all students — succeed.

But the moving of Unity on an updated list of cost-cutting possibilities at a Duluth School Board meeting this week made clear the district and board members are willing to consider many options to ease financial difficulties. And that’s something taxpayers can urge them to do as they tackle a $3.5 million budget gap for the 2014 fiscal year.

Decisions about tentative cuts are expected in about a month. The budget is to be officially approved in June.

Before coming to district residents for more cash via another tax hike or referendum question, board members and district administrators can give serious consideration to hosts of other options first.

The district’s contract with teachers expires in June. Negotiations are just beginning. How about increasing the amount teachers and other district employees contribute to their health insurance? An estimated $1.23 million per year could be saved if employees paid 20 percent. And isn’t that more in line with what private-sector workers are being expected to pay these days?

Another $1.5 million could be saved if full health-care benefits were offered only to full-time or nearly full-time district employees. Half-time employees qualify for benefits now.

Freezing step and lane increases for teacher salaries could trim an additional $723,000, according to reporting this week by the News Tribune’s Jana Hollingsworth. Step increases are for years of experience; lane increases are for higher qualifications.

How about an overall pay freeze? Or a pay cut, at least until the district’s financial fortunes are turned around? How about a freeze or a cut if it means avoiding layoffs?

Another idea to save money is limiting freshmen to six classes a day rather than seven, meaning no zero hour. The district could eliminate early-release days in favor of days off to save even more on staff costs and busing. And paying for high school career centers with existing school money could save an estimated $23,000.

Then there’s moving the district’s alternative high school, Unity. If that somehow could be accomplished without hurting student achievement, it could save $405,000 through staff cuts.

It all adds up.

And it all needs to be on the table.

There’ll be pain. But taxpayers needn’t be the only ones to feel the pinch.

Our view: Keep all on table to balance Duluth school district budget | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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