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Duluth School Board OKs $2.3 million in cuts

The Duluth School Board approved a plan to address a $2.3 million budget shortfall Tuesday night.

Proposed budget cuts include $542,000 from educational support and more than $650,000 from administration and its support staff. Another $700,000 in savings is expected to come from new hires replacing retirees.

A $1.5 million deficit combined with $783,000 in new spending creates the shortfall. Investments are intended for student intervention, staff training and equity work.

Several board members said they wanted to explore some of the ideas of a community group working on equity issues surrounding Denfeld and East high schools.

“Some of these are revenue neutral,” said member Nora Sandstad, referring to a report the board received Tuesday night.

Joan Lancour, president of the clerical union, spoke during the meeting of the ramifications of the slated $120,000 in clerical cuts. Citing many of the tasks the “behind the scenes” staff perform, the reduction will “directly impact our students and families,” she said.

The final budget goes before the board in June. It voted 6-1 to approve the preliminary budget Tuesday, with member Art Johnston opposing.

It is still unknown how many employees will be affected through layoffs and reduced hours. The deficit could change depending on the amount of state aid the district is set to receive and the results of a new teacher contract. The remainder of the cuts is yet to be decided.

Also of note:

  • The board approved a design-services contract for the former Rockridge Elementary, setting the stage for remaking it as Woodland Hills Academy, the new setting for the clients of The Hills Youth and Family Services, a behavioral and mental health treatment facility in Duluth. Clients of the facility are educated by the Duluth school district. The board next month will likely decide whether to spend an estimated $2.5 million on the project.
  • The board approved the elimination of the Chinese World Language program from East and Denfeld high schools. The program has suffered from low enrollment at both schools, and the district has difficulty finding qualified teachers. It has in the past worked with a Chinese teaching program to bring teachers in on a temporary basis. Next year will be the final year for upper level classes, and the first level will not be offered.
  • A measure allowing 4-year-old Head Start students to ride on district K-5 school buses next year was approved, waiving a five-point harness and bus monitor requirement. Currently, only Head Start students attending Piedmont and Myers-Wilkins elementaries receive transportation. With the blending of Head Start students with 4-year-olds in voluntary pre-kindergarten and the school-readiness program at various schools, it makes sense for those students to ride together, said Pam Rees, director of Duluth’s Head Start program last week. It also means more students receive free transportation. The 4-year-olds are picked up at corner stops and are required to sit in the front of the bus. A parent is required to be waiting at the bus stop when a Head Start student is dropped off, and if no one is there the student is returned to school. Whether students are eligible for partial, no or full transportation depends on the type of sessions they enroll in. There are 239 kids enrolled in Head Start this year.
  • A large contingent of Denfeld High School staff and supporters packed the board room Tuesday night, as the community group working on equity issues between Denfeld and East presented recommendations to the board that emphasized better meeting the needs of Denfeld students. Parent Marla Halvorson asked for leadership and board action in solving the issue, “before we lose one more graduating class that didn’t have the opportunity.” A smaller enrollment has meant less opportunity at Denfeld in some ways, and higher numbers of special education students, kids of color and those living in poverty means different needs.
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