Blaine school district reconsiders proposed staff reductions

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The Blaine school district will be keeping four positions next school year that administrators considered removing due to possible budget cuts. Superintendent Christopher Granger said after the May 15 deadline, when state law requires the district to notify any affected staff, the district had found work for those staff members who could have been affected by the reduction in force.

The Blaine school board passed a measure during its March 22 meeting that would allow Granger to cut four special education positions for the 2021-22 school year. The staff reduction would accommodate for a drop in enrollment that could reduce the district’s funding next year.

In the following board meeting April 26, Blaine Education Association (BEA) president Dan Persse asked the school board to reconsider during the public comment section.

Persse, speaking on behalf of BEA, said the district’s funding reserves were substantial enough to keep the positions. “Please don’t consider this,” Persse said. “Especially when we have such a high reserve.”

The reduction plan was introduced after Amber Porter, the district’s executive director of finance and operations, previously advised the board that the district had to plan for possible budget cuts. Because the district’s enrollment is down by an average of 75 students this year, Porter said apportionment for next year was “up in the air.”

The board then passed a resolution in the same meeting that directed Granger to submit a reduced education plan that would include staff reductions. A plan was brought back to the board and passed in the following meeting with the four special education positions suggested.

In the April 26 board meeting, Persse said he was concerned for students and staff if the positions were removed. He said a reduction in force “causes uncertainty and fear among staff especially our new staff who have voiced concern to me in confidence that they feel they could be next.”

Persse said enrollment decreases are temporary and that students will come back when instruction is back in the classroom full time, which the district is planning for next year.

According to the resolution, a staff position in the learning assistance program and three from special education were considered for reduction. The resolution sites state funding reduction, enrollment and case load as reasoning for the reductions.

The last time the district faced potential reductions in staff, Persse said, there was concern the district’s reserves would dip below 6 percent – the district’s target minimum. But once the reserve projection increased above 6 percent, former superintendent Robert Spanjer reversed the potential staff reductions. 

Prior to April tax collections, Porter said the budget reserve was around 11 percent because of certain state relief funding and fewer expenses this year related to the pandemic. But she said it could decrease sharply if the district received less funding next year and had students back in the building five days a week.

But the four reductions in staff were only a possibility if the district decided next year’s state funding, which was under review by administrators, was insufficient. Following the May 15 deadline, Granger said staff reductions would not be necessary as the district expects sufficient apportionment for next year.

“I don’t foresee any financial issues next year if the school returns to full capacity,” Porter said. While apportionment will be based on current enrollment, which Porter said they hope increases, the district will utilize federal stimulus money if apportionment is not sufficient.

Porter also said the district will exceed its minimum target reserve of 6 percent by the end of the school year.

To add on to Persse’s concerns, the school district also recently added two administrative positions, which he said was backwards thinking. “We need educators that are working directly with students,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense why you would cut this population group. I think it’s unfortunate.”

Granger said adding administrative roles was a necessary decision to improve the evaluation process of teachers and help principals discipline students. “They’re grounded in what do our students need to be successful,” Granger said. “If we want principals to do more work with teachers to improve the outcome of teachers, we have to put more administrators in the game.”

When asked how the district’s relationship was with BEA following the decision to reconsider the staff reductions, Granger said the district has a great working relationship with all of its labor unions. “We are always working with our labor unions,” he said.

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