Last week I answered a few questions related to the upcoming school district referendum. This week, I’d like to address the three biggest questions:

1. If the referendum passes, how will the money be spent?

2. Who will make sure the referendum funds will be used for student learning?

3. What happens if the referendum does not pass?

How will the money be spent?

Since January, a Community Task Force has been studying our finances and their impact on students. They were very clear and direct in our need for additional funding, and urged the district to keep things simple. The legal language for the referendum is very direct and binds the district to a legal contract with voters.

On the ballot, Question 1 states “Authorization to Hire/Retain High-Quality Teachers and Support Students.” If question 1 is approved, we will be obligated legally to hire and retain teachers, reduce class sizes and support student learning. That means we will purchase more classroom supplies, books and learning materials to support students in the new teachers’ classrooms, and we will provide additional support for students.

Question 2 states “Authorization to Support Vocational Technology and College Readiness.” We will be legally obligated to maintain (avoid cutting) and expand vocational and career technical classes, and we will increase opportunities to earn college credits while in high school. We will add apprenticeships and provide training and mentoring to prepare graduates for success in careers and college.

Question 2 can only pass if Question 1 passes because as much as the Task Force values vocational-technical classes, they could not justify adding programs at the high school when the basics of how many students are in a classroom are unacceptably high.

Who will make sure the spending is on learning?

Last January, we expanded the School Board’s Finance Committee to become a Citizens Financial Advisory Council. Community business leaders joined to increase transparency, oversight and accountability. The Board commits to maintaining the Citizens Financial Advisory Council over the duration of the approved referendum authorization.

In addition, the official resolution calling for the referendum specifically stated the funds will be used for student learning, hiring and keeping high-quality teachers, reducing class sizes, and enhancing career and college readiness. This language is in the title of the ballot question. This is a legally binding commitment by the School Board and is subject to independent financial audits.

What will happen if the additional funding is not approved?

After cutting $8.5 million over the last three years, we have cut all the fat and are down to the bone. We already know state funding (approved last June for the next two years) will not keep pace with inflation. Without new revenue, we can expect another $1-$1.7 million in reductions. This will be the fourth year of budget cuts; we can’t trim around the edges. The Community Task Force prioritized the following cost-cutting measures:

Schedule changes at the high school and elimination of more electives

Students currently register for 60 possible credits over four years with 52 credits required to graduate —16 are elective credits. With additional budget cuts, electives would be cut up to 75%. Cuts would impact career-technical education, family and consumer science, personal finance, business, world languages, art, band, choir, physical education, and electives in English, math, science and social studies. Such a change will likely impact K-8 options and schedules as well.

Reduce academic support programs, those that provide a lifeline to students who are below grade level. Many of these federal or grant funded programs require matching funds from the district, and if district funds are eliminated grant funds will be gone the next year. This includes targeted reading supports, smaller group interventions and supports.

Increased facility use fees to cover utilities and custodial services for groups who rent or use our buildings. Youth sports fees will increase, community education class fees will go up, scouts and other nonprofits who use our buildings will have to pay more.

Eliminate more middle school activities and increase activity fees

Some middle school activities have already been cut and combined with high school teams. More could be eliminated completely or fees would need to increase. This year First Bank and Trust of Cambridge donated $10,000 to avoid activity fee increases for students, and we appreciate their generosity.

Eliminate specialty choice programs and reconfigure school grade levels

Over the last two year, we eliminated the middle school year-round school (MN Center) and the year round schedule for School For All Seasons, but kept the students together with a focus on science and the environment. Without additional funding, this program can no longer be sustained. We’d also start to plan for reconfiguring grade levels and shifting some boundaries for increased efficiencies in administration, district supports, and transportation.

Reduce transportation with a two-mile walk zone

State funding is intended to pay for transportations for students who live two miles or more from school. This will likely increase traffic congestion around each of our schools.

Over the last three years, the district has reduced expenses by $8.5 million (on a $60 million budget). Budget reductions have resulted in larger class sizes, less individual attention for students, higher student fees, fewer teachers and staff, and reductions in critical support for students who struggle.

We hope all voters will get the facts before you vote. Visit our website, www.c-ischools.org/referendum. Call me with any questions you have.

Thank you for your continued support of our students and our community.

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