Budget reductions are not anything new for the administration or school board of Cambridge-Isanti Schools, but they never get any easier.
For the third year in a row, the board has had to approve budget reductions in order to keep a balanced budget. During the Cambridge-Isanti School Board meeting April 22, the board approved $1 million in budget reductions for fiscal year 2022. The board previously approved $4.5 million in budget reductions for fiscal year 2020 and $3 million for fiscal year 2021.
Superintendent Nate Rudolph explained for fiscal year 2022, the district is facing $1.7 million in structural deficit. Rudolph explained the district will be able to utilize $700,000 of one-time use COVID-19 relief dollars to help balance the budget for fiscal year 2022, so only $1 million in budget reductions will be needed.
It was relayed during the November 2020 Cambridge-Isanti Schools operating referendum campaign, if the referendum did not pass, the district will need to cut $1.7 million from its budget for fiscal year 2022 to balance the budget, and the referendum did not pass.
The district outlined its proposed budget reductions at its March 25 board meeting and engaged in online feedback, staff meetings, board presentations and discussions, a virtual public meeting, meetings with parents and staff of School for All Seasons and had ongoing discussions with a community task force before making its final budget reduction recommendations to the school board.
During the March 25 meeting, Rudolph explained the district was considering eliminating the School for All Seasons programs for a budget savings of $245,000, but after discussions, the district will be maintaining the program for at least the next school year with modifications.
“The key to maintaining this program is that it cannot cost more than other programs to run. And in the past, that has been the case, it has cost more at times. We have spent a significant amount of time with Schools for All Seasons parents and staff,” Rudolph said. “We set parameters that if the program could be changed to meet the budget reduction targets and eliminate any extra cost within the program, we could maintain it for the 2021-2022 school year. We will be reconstructing the program to maintain the focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.”
Rudolph said beginning next year, the School for All Seasons will move from a year-round program to the traditional school year calendar that will result in a significant cost savings, and kindergarten through second grade will be housed out of the Isanti Primary School building.
“We want to acknowledge that a move to IPS is a temporary solution at this time,” Rudolph said. “It has raised some detailed questions that we will work to answer ... as we engage in transitional planning in the coming weeks.”
As for co-curriculars, Rudolph thanked First Bank and Trust for their $10,000 donation to help the district offset athletic fees and co-curricular fees for next year, but middle school baseball and softball will be eliminated.
“We will not be raising fees this year for our families due to that donation,” Rudolph said. “At the same time, we recognize that there are community associations that have active youth organizations that run during the summer. So when we looked at budget reductions we’re looking at eliminating middle school baseball and softball next year, where we see an overlap with opportunities to provide our local youth associations, so students still have those opportunities to play those sports in the spring season.”
Rudolph said the district will not be making any changes to the traditional school year calendar next year, and if possible, the district will move toward returning students to in-person learning five days a week next year. He said the district will continue offering an online opportunity for students next year as well.
“Every staff member is valuable and working above and beyond to meet the needs of our students during this unprecedented time,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph explained the $1 million in budget reductions will come from administration, totaling $177,013; operations, totaling $72,000; academics and class size, totaling $686,453: and co-curricular/fees for service, totaling $64,534.
Administration budget reductions include:
• Transportation director. The transportation director recently resigned and the district has contracted with a company to provide those services.
• Reduction of 1.0 high school assistant principal and replace with 1.0 dean of students.
• High school technology integrationist reduction.
• Shift testing coordination and academic coaching testing responsibilities to the director of teaching and learning.
• Increase special education coordination at high school.
• Freeze current administration model at the middle school which represents one assistant principal and one dean of students between the two schools.
As far as operations are concerned, Rudolph said the non-renewal of 12 contracts of part-time pandemic cleaners hired over the summer and an increase in facility rental fees will result in a $72,000 savings.
As for the academics category, Rudolph said the district will reduce 6.5 full-time-equivalent teaching positions for next year, but due to retirements, contracts for only three full-time probationary teachers will not be renewed.
“So in summary, total reduction reduced positions represents 2.5 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) at the elementary level, three FTEs at middle school level and one FTE at the high school level,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph said savings with academics will also be found by freezing school supply budgets, the realignment of School for All Seasons and retirement savings.
“We still face uncertainty. The Legislature is still in session and state funding is still in question. We are continuing to contact families who are not currently enrolled to determine their intent for next year. We expect to make additional staffing adjustments as we need throughout the summer due to enrollment fluctuations,” Rudolph said. “We will engage our community task force to plan for long-term recommendations in solving our financial problems. In the meantime, we remain committed to living within our means and exercising fiscal responsibility.”
Rudolph said throughout the budgeting process, the district has been guided by the values of the Bluejacket Way: “honesty, respect, responsibility, self-discipline and compassion.”
“Each of our employees is important to us and we hope in the future that we can welcome valued employees back,” Rudolph said. “In Cambridge-Isanti Schools we want to continue to attract the best and brightest educators to our district. We want to remain a district of choice for families and employees. Most importantly, we want to emerge as an even stronger organization and community, committed to excellence in education for every student, every day.”